Creative Thinking and Active Learning
By Dr. Joe Costa, Buzzards Bay NEP
In 2003, the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program (NEP) published the report, Atlas of Stormwater Discharges in the Buzzards Bay Watershed. Several years in the making, the 100 plus-page report includes maps of more than 2,600 stormwater discharges and more than 12,000 catch basins along the shores of most of Buzzards Bay. The Atlas also includes a preliminary priority ranking of potential remediation projects based on numerous factors, including the number of known catch basins connected to the discharges, the presence of shellfish beds near the discharge, and if the shellfish beds had been closed due to pollution.
To produce the Atlas, the Buzzards Bay NEP first mapped discharges within a half-mile of shore using grant funding to complete the project. Municipal officials receiving the reports and poster-size maps of their town appreciated the Atlas, but wanted more maps of their entire town. Fire chiefs wanted the maps to help respond to toxic spills on roadways, boards of health were trying to identify inland sources of pollution, and public works departments needed this information for their new "Phase II" stormwater management permits, now required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Inland towns wanted their communities mapped for the same reasons. Unfortunately, the Buzzards Bay NEP did not have the personnel or resources to meet these needs, and hiring private contractors to do the work was too expensive for most towns.
Len Gonsalves, Executive Director of the Buzzards Bay Action Committee (BBAC), proposed a solution. Recognizing that the Buzzards Bay NEP had successfully used student interns to do routine mapping of stormwater drainage networks in the field, he believed that the BBAC could fund students as part of a vocational high school work-study program to do the time consuming, and typically most expensive part, of any field mapping program. Len knew some teachers at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School (GNB Voc-Tech), and knew Voc-Tech wanted to expand its environmental education program, and thought a partnership with BBAC could benefit both organizations.
So, in 2003, the Buzzards Bay NEP began a partnership with the BBAC and GNB Voc-Tech to set up a pilot program to map stormwater networks in Buzzards Bay municipalities. The Buzzards Bay NEP provided technical support and training to guide the effort, and to evaluate the Geographic Information System (GIS) data. The BBAC bought GIS software for the school and paid the students' work-study salaries. The students mapped inland portions of Dartmouth, Westport, and Fairhaven—all areas that had not previously been mapped by the Buzzards Bay NEP.
In 2004, the BBAC expanded the stormwater mapping partnership further and hired a consultant, Maurice "Moe" Leger, to work with the students. Moe had been working as an assistant harbormaster in Dartmouth and had just finished mapping moorings in that community. After working with students, Moe developed a clever innovation for the stormwater mapping.
In previous years, students had brought out very detailed aerial photographs where features such as driveways, houses, and even cars could be discerned. Student marked up the photos with locations of catch basins and discharges. Later these maps were brought back to the classroom, and using the GIS software and a "heads up" mapping approach, computer map data files were created. This mapping technique had the accuracy needed for stormwater planning maps, and proved faster than using a Global Positioning System (GPS) in the field and processing the data later. However, Moe saw the benefits of having a GPS out in the field if he could eliminate some intermediate steps of converting the data.
Moe's innovation was to combine in the field heads-up GIS software digitizing with real-time GPS data point collection, using teams of two students driving through neighborhoods. The students had their GPS units linked to their laptops (through wireless or cables), and edited their stormwater GIS database in real time, simply by following their positions on detailed aerial photographs. This strategy proved to be the fastest and most reliable data collection technique for the students, enabled them to correct any inaccurate GPS positioning, and allowed them to enter information as they drove from site to site. The students could also map "on-the-fly" other features that the towns wanted, such as fire hydrants. [Handheld combined GPS-GIS units with these capabilities had just come to market, but they were not yet affordable for this program.]
By the end of 2004, the BBAC had spent more than $12,000 of their funds and were running out of money. The BBAC wanted to continue the effort and map all inland areas of the Buzzards Bay watershed, but could not afford to do it alone. To meet this need, the Buzzards Bay NEP partnered with the BBAC and GNB Voc-Tech to develop a grant application to fund the remaining work. In March of 2005, Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) awarded nearly $19,000 to fund the remaining work, with an additional $16,000 match of cash and in-kind contributions from the BBAC and Voc-Tech.
Through 2005 this study mapped thousands more stormwater discharges, road cuts, and catch basins in seven Buzzards Bay municipalities. Continuing through the end of 2005, the program partners, including newly hired NEP Natural Resource Planner, Sarah Raposa, worked with municipal public works departments to make final revisions to the maps and data. In November, the NEP provided $15,000 for municipalities to purchase laptop tablets and GPS units so that they could use and update the stormwater drainage system database, and participate in the collaborative. For his Senior Project, Voc-Tech student Nathan Aruda prepared a manual and made presentations to municipal public works staff on how to use and manage the database on these systems. Most importantly, through this partnership, the Buzzards Bay NEP and BBAC helped GNB Voc-Tech create a successful and self-sustaining environmental education program that not only serves the needs of nearby municipalities, but also provides the students with invaluable skills.
This stormwater mapping collaborative has had other benefits to Voc-Tech and their students. In 2004, GNB Voc-Tech, using their pilot work with the Buzzards Bay NEP and the BBAC, was able to obtain a $45,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Education to assist in establishing the school's new Geodesy/Environmental Engineering program. The new Geodesy/Environmental Engineering teacher oversaw students in the stormwater program during 2005, as well as students working on other GIS projects. Students who have participated in the collaborative have benefited as well. One of the first students to participate in the program was hired before going to college, as a contractor by the City of New Bedford to help revise and update the City's stormwater maps. Two more Voc-Tech students were hired by New Bedford to do follow-up GIS work the following winter. According to Steven A. Walker, an administrator at GNB Voc-Tech who helped establish the program, "We are preparing students for higher education in the field of environmental engineering so that they can obtain high-end jobs in that field. We see a strong demand for expertise in this field, and the students are excited by this new environmental program."
For more information about this stormwater mapping collaborative, visit www.buzzardsbay.org/stormatlas-collaborative.htm.