2016 Award Winners

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“Partnering University Students with Municipalities for Water Resource Challenges”

Town of Westford, MA

“Building Community Support for Stormwater through the Living Lab”

City of Quincy, MA

“Clean Water is Everybody’s Business”

The Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) is one of the most distinctive elements of Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s curriculum, giving every WPI student the experience of working in interdisciplinary teams to solve a problem or need that lies at the intersection of science and society.

In 2013, WPI (Professor Corey Dehner) and MassDEP approached the newly formed Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC) to discuss the idea of pairing WPI IQP students with Coalition communities to help them meet the provisions of the 2003 NPDES MS4 permit. Thus was born the WPI-MassDEP-CMRSWC partnership to provide direct assistance to MS4 communities in Central Massachusetts. This partnership and approach was so successful that in 2015, Professor Dehner worked with WPI to create an entirely new Project Center called the Water Resource Outreach Center (WROC) focused entirely on water resource protection within Massachusetts and dedicated to assisting Central and Eastern Massachusetts municipalities and watershed associations with their water resource needs. The students receive public policy background on water issues from MassDEP, towns receive dedicated student staff for municipal projects and the students see how municipal environmental programs are implemented in real time.

The WROC has been a valuable, cost-effective resource for municipalities who were struggling to find the staff, funding, and technical expertise to comply with evolving stormwater regulations. Since 2013, WPI has sponsored 9 student projects relating to stormwater and the MS4 permit, providing direct assistance to 15 communities in CMRSWC as well as substantive research-based projects for the Coalition. Completed projects have included: Cost Analysis for Implementing the MS4 Permit, Evaluation of Compliance of Central Massachusetts Municipalities with Stormwater Regulations, Expanding the Catalog of Stormwater Best Management Practices, and Stormwater Management Educational Materials. The awareness and recommendations generated from the WROC have resulted in increased funding for regional initiatives. This partnership is a unique and effective way to provide direct and immediate assistance to municipalities facing the new MS4 permit.

Westford Public Schools offer a unique opportunity for elementary students to explore their world at the Living Lab at the Norman E. Day School, with stormwater education as a recurring theme in the curriculum. The Living Lab was created thanks to the vision of retired K-5 Science Curriculum Coordinator, Dr. Carol Shestok, and support from many in the town, and it plays an important role in continued political support for and awareness of the Town’s Stormwater Management Program. For a generation of Westford families, the Living Lab 5th grade curriculum has increased local awareness of watershed management, impacts of runoff, the function of drainage, and illicit discharges, which has led to increased voter support for Town expenditures and efforts.

The Stormwater Matters Lesson Plan was developed by SuAsCo Watershed Community Council and Town Engineering and Water Department staff to teach watershed and natural resource stewardship. This is the focus of the 5th grade curriculum at the Living Lab, and each year, between 400 and 500 fifth graders participate in the program, led by the Engineering Department. The 5th graders also learn how stormwater is managed on their school property by seeing the opened catch basins and manholes and the design and functions of the onsite rain garden.

The children of many of Westford’s professional staff and decision makers have also participated in the program and discussed stormwater lessons with their parents afterwards, prompting valuable conversations about Westford’s stormwater program. Most importantly, students have benefited from the community-based, hands-on science curriculum. It has fostered a life-long love of science and technology for many students. Building the Living Lab initially required the vision and resourcefulness of a local champion. However, the hard work and community investment to establish this program is now a manageable annual effort by a small team of Town employees and volunteers with a minimal budget. This concept is transferable to Cities and Towns with strong leadership and professional staff and educators willing to work together to build a lasting program.

One of the biggest barriers to adequate stormwater funding derives from a lack of awareness of the importance of stormwater management. Often left without a dedicated funding stream, stormwater battles for funding with other services like public safety, emergency management, education and recreation. Our idea transforms stormwater and sewer management into an integrated Clean Water Program.

A single Clean Water Program allows us funding flexibility, like leveraging sewer funds for rapid illicit detection services, and creates a “clean water” commodity that rate payers are “buying” through continued investments. Our message goes beyond measuring outputs like repairing a pipe and instead focuses on how an output impacts residents’ quality of life. We use a variety of ways to deliver this message to our residents including:

(1) Direct mailings like a twice annual newsletter (mailed to 28,000 households) with a full page dedicated to clean water efforts in the City,

(2) Quarterly water bill inserts encouraging clean water practices

(3) Annual Department Calendar given to the public featuring our employees hard at work on clean water efforts,

(4) Targeted mailings to neighborhoods impacted by clean water projects,

(5) Adoption of “Clean Water is Everybody’s Business” logo (decals placed on every Department vehicle), and

(6) Public Service Announcements on local cable TV about the City’s clean water efforts.

The message is consistent and simple—investment in clean water enhances your quality of life. In the short term, investment will stabilize your sewer rates. In the medium-term investment allows greater enjoyment of waterfront recreation and more consistent public services. In the long-term investment in clean water will provide new and expanded economic, social and recreational opportunities.

By promoting our Clean Water Program to the Mayor, City Council, residents and business owners, the Department has increased political support, funding and staffing. In FY 2016, the department secured a 32% funding increase from FY2015. This money was used to increase staff by hiring a Compliance Manager and a dedicated Drain Foreman. The increase was supported by our Mayor and Council, all who are aware of the Department and residents’ concerns about clean water. By getting the message out to residents about Clean Water benefits, they can advocate to elected officials to ensure that clean water efforts are properly funded.