Urban Ponds and Storm Water

In 2010, EJLRI, Urban Pond Procession, and Groundwork Providence worked together on a new campaign to address stormwater pollution in Mashapaug Pond, Providence’s only remaining natural pond, located in South Providence. 

The main goals of our Mashapaug stormwater project were to:

  • Develop a core group of resident leaders to design and lead this project
  • Educate and engage residents and schoolchildren in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood on ways they can contribute to the pond’s restoration through outreach, workshops, as well as hands-on trainings in basic stormwater management techniques led by Groundwork Providence
  • Engage businesses in the Huntington Industrial Park located between Niantic Avenue and the pond, get commitments from them to reduce runoff from the business’s properties, and help them achieve these goals
  • Explore the potential to create jobs for Providence residents in the area of stormwater management and adding more green space to our city through innovative funding strategies


Urban stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution for all of our city’s waterways, including Mashapaug Pond, which creates unsafe conditions for people and ecosystems.  Too much phosphorus from pet waste, fertilizers from people’s lawns, oil from the road, road salt, etc. wash into our waterways when it rains and contaminate them.  In Mashapaug Pond, this process helps toxic bacterias develop that are a hazard to people and pets and reduce oxygen levels in the water, making it difficult for healthy plant and animal life to survive.

The solutions to this problem lie in eliminating these pollutants from runoff in the first place (picking up pet waste, not feeding geese or other birds, not using lawn fertilizers, ensuring motor oil is securely disposed of, etc) and increasing the amount of absorptive surfaces in our city — meaning increasing the amount of grass, plants, and trees, and reducing the amount of asphalt, concrete, and other surfaces that don’t absorb rain water.

Solving our stormwater problem is central to achieving environmental justice in Providence and Rhode Island’s other urban centers.  Our urban communities have higher poverty and unemployment rates, its where the majority of people of color in the state live, and these are the same places with poorer air and water quality and less access to good things like green space, recreational opportunities, and the beauty of the natural environment.  Cleaner water means more recreational opportunities like fishing and boating can happen right in our cities and we’ll be safer when we go to beaches on the coast.  Protecting our waterways, adding more green space, and improving the public spaces we already have means we’ll benefit by being more connected to the natural environment too.  Investing in green infrastructure means more jobs can be created for residents in Providence and other cities to install and maintain rain gardens and permeable pavement, de-pave driveways and right-of-ways, cut curbs and plant trees.

Check out our resident handbook on stormwater and green infrastructure below, created specifically for Reservoir Triangle, but can definitely be used for other neighborhoods across the state!

Resident Handbook – Stormwater and Green Infrastructure (pdf)

This project was funded by the EPA Urban Waters Small Grants Program.


View of Mashapaug Pond — a Providence gem!

Past Urban Waters Project Events and Workshops:


Duck Boat on Mashapaug

Principal Socorro Gomez-Potter from the Reservoir Avenue Elementary School enjoys her first time on Mashapaug Pond

Duck Truck on Mashapaug


October 20th, 2012 – Stormwater Walk led by George Harvey, Landscape Designer and project partner from Groundwork Providence:  20 people from the neighborhood and allies from partner organizations participated in a walk around Mashapaug Pond, focusing mostly on JT Owens ballfield and the Huntington Industrial Park.  George talked with us about various ways stormwater could be better managed to prevent runoff from the fields and businesses there including:

  • raising grated storm drains located near baseball fields to slow down water rushing into pond
  • planting native plants to prevent soil erosion and slow water down, help it be absorbed
  • identifying specific pollution sources and stopping them at the source (see photo below)
  • raising the top of a building’s downspout just a couple inches so that rainwater can collect on the roof of the building and naturally evaporate rather then run down the downspout into the street
  • directing downspouts into plants, grass, or other vegetated areas
An example of an avoidable pollution source going into Mashapaug Pond

An example of an avoidable pollution source going into Mashapaug Pond


January 19th, 2013 – Residential Stormwater Workshop: Neighborhood residents, City staff from the Parks Department and Office of Sustainability, among others, participated in a workshop to look at how individual residents could improve stormwater management at their homes and in the neighborhood as a whole.  Residents met together to plan out springtime activities and outreach in the neighborhood to get more of their neighbors involved.

George Harvey co-led this workshop and prepared incredibly useful documents (see below) to help residents see tangible ways they could prevent stormwater runoff from their homes, roofs, and lawns.  While a significant portion of the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood’s stormwater flows into the pond, especially from the homes right on the edge of the pond, much of the neighborhood’s stormwater goes into Combined Sewers (pipes where wastewater and stormwater combine) that are directed to Fields Point, the wastewater treatment facility off Allens Avenue.  Ultimately all this treated water goes into Narragansett Bay.  This still means stormwater can overburden the system and cost taxpayers and the City money — so figuring out ways to absorb more stormwater in the neighborhood will help a great deal.


May 4th, 2013 – De-paving Demonstration Project at 46 Crescent St.:  Reservoir Triangle resident, Laura Maxwell, volunteered her driveway to our project, allowing the Groundwork Providence green job training program to remove a layer of asphalt and about 6 inches of concrete from her driveway, replacing it with geoblock material and grass that will still allow her to drive across it to get to her garage but will absorb rain water coming off the roof of her house — helping reduce the stormwater load on Mashapaug Pond.  Thanks Laura!  Check out these photos of the process:

asphalt driveway 3

The original asphalt driveway.

laying geoblock

The end result: A grassy area that can absorb roof runoff and stormwater!


October 2013 – Right-of-Way Depaving and Planting:  Nellie Richardson and her family gave the EJ League the go-ahead to cut the concrete in front of their home on Algonquin St and create a planted buffer in its place.  This was done with permission from the Providence Department of Public Works, with some materials donated by the Parks Department.  The work was conducted by Groundwork Providence’s job training crew.  Thanks everyone!  Check out the before and after photos:

crew using concrete cutter

nellie install 1

nellie after 1

The planted buffer captures roof runoff, filters pollutants, and prevents flooding on this street corner!

The EJ League also worked with businesses on the other side of Mashapaug Pond in the Huntington Business Park to implement stormwater solutions.  Ximedica, RI PBS, and Brown University’s Library Collections Annex all participated in a spring tree planting in 2013:

Ximedica trees 2


And we be continued this outreach in 2014!  The RI Department of Environmental Management, in collaboration with our project, was awarded $50,000 through a legal settlement against Southern Union (an oil/gas company that was found guilty of illegally storing mercury in an unlocked shack in Pawtucket).  This money went directly to support green infrastructure projects in the Huntington Business Park — and give Groundwork Providence’s job training graduates — GroundCorp — an opportunity for paid, on-the-job professional development.


The new signs placed around Mashapaug Pond.

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