If you’ve ever admired the lush bodies of water and vibrant blooms buzzing with pollinators around Roger Williams Park, then you have the Providence Stormwater Innovation Center to thank, in part, for introducing and maintaining these ecosystems, which are also the first stop on a downstream journey toward cleaner water.
On September 24, the fourth Rain Harvest Festival celebrates and sheds light on more than 40 green infrastructure projects the Providence Parks Department has invested in around the park. From constructed wetlands around Roosevelt Lake to native plant gardens, “These stormwater projects, while beautiful, are also doing heavy lifting – they are helping to slow down and filter polluted water from the surrounding area before it reaches our ponds and lakes,” explains Rebecca Reeves, stormwater education and outreach coordinator.
“Stormwater runoff can carry many things with it: trash, bacteria, animal waste, oil and exhaust, and sediment. Sediment that contains nutrients, namely phosphorus and nitrogen, is of major concern because it can lead to invasive plant growth, harmful algal blooms (cyanobacteria), and eutrophication, which causes plants and animals in a water body to die,” explains Reeves. “It’s important to remember that all watersheds are connected, so while we often hear of these issues happening in our smaller local water bodies, these issues affect downstream waters, too, and impact our oceans.”
But you don’t need to be an environmental scientist to enjoy September’s festivities, which aim to spark curiosity and conversation through games, interactive walks, activities, and art. “We want to focus less on technical information, and more on how we all connect to water in our communities and what we can do to help keep it clean,” says Reeves.
RI Latino Arts poet-in-residence Sussy Santana, who invited participants to write and share their “water memories” in vials at last year’s festival, will return this year with activities to reflect on the meaning of water. There will also be aquatic animal touch tanks from Save the Bay, complimentary admission to the Roger Williams Park Natural History Museum a short walk away, self-guided tours, and augmented reality activities. Through a partnership with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, local students painted rain barrels that will be raffled off during the festival. Chalk art, face painting, and crafts offer avenues for all ages to be engaged in all things water.
By illuminating everyday relationships with waterways, the festival’s goal is to arm citizens with the tools to identify stormwater issues in their own neighborhoods. “Certainly, recent flooding issues have put a spotlight on the importance of stormwater management and the implementation of more green infrastructure to help mitigate these issues,” says Reeves. “We don’t want to minimize the role that individuals can play in their communities, and their participation also helps create buy-in for municipal and statewide plans, too!”
For instance, the Stormwater Innovation Center developed RainSnap.org, allowing anyone around the Providence metro area to document green infrastructure in action to help the center assess how the projects are functioning. The BloomWatch app lets the public monitor harmful cyanobacteria blooms in bodies of water across the state.
And what better way to inspire environmental participation than at one of the state’s most beloved parks? “Roger Williams Park has over a million visitors each year, and for some residents of Rhode Island’s urban core, it is the only large accessible green space near their neighborhoods,” says Reeves. “Our goal is to encourage people to participate, have them feel empowered to make positive changes in their community!”
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