BEAT’s Pittsfield Stormwater Outfall Project

In September of 2015 BEAT received grant funding from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) to survey stormwater outfalls during dry weather conditions.

Over the course of two years volunteers surveyed over 18 miles of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield finding 288 stormwater outfalls, many of which the City of Pittsfield had no record of. Most salient, several of the outfalls tested positive for high levels of fecal coliform, which is a common indicator of sewage.

A FINAL REPORT is available here: REPORT

A link to the final map which includes all the outfalls surveyed as well as pictures, can be found HERE.

The project was funded through the sale of environmental license plates such as the one shown here. You can help support the program that funded us by purchasing one of these license plates.Photo: Sale of license plates such as this fund the Massachusetts Environmental Trust program

MET is one of the largest sources of grant funds for water resources in the Commonwealth. Since its founding, MET has awarded over $20 million in grants to organizations protecting and and enhancing the Commonwealth’s water resources and natural environments.

About the project:

What is a stormwater outfall?

Why survey stormwater outfalls?

Why survey during dry-weather conditions?

Who is doing the surveys?

How to deal with pollution from stormwater/runoff?

What is a stormwater outfall?ArcGISApp_1441904465256

short answer: a stormwater system’s discharge point

Have you ever asked yourself where rainwater goes after it falls on a street, parking lot or rooftop? The obvious answer is into a gutter. But where does it go after that?

After entering a gutter rainwater is transported via a system of
pipes–also known as a stormwater system–to a nearby body of water. That body of water can be a stream, river, pond, or lake.

The point at which the water exits the stormwater system and enters the body of water is known as the stormwater outfall.

The picture on the right illustrates a typical stormwater outfall. This particular outfall is discharging rainwater into the Housatonic River. There are hundreds of outfalls in Berkshire County of varying size, age, and importance.

Why survey stormwater outfalls?

short answer: sometimes outfalls transport pollutants to waterbodies

Unfortunately, along with rainwater these pipes are also capable of carrying pollutants. “Pollutants can enter the stormdrain system in numerous ways. Sometimes a citizen or company has illegally dumped oil, automotive fluids, or other substances in or near a storm David-Mariah-Elia-swbranch2drain. Municipal sewer lines might be leaking, blocked, or overflow. A private septic system might have failed and leaked effluent into a nearby storm drain. Other times a pipe is illegally connected to the storm drain system. The pollutants resulting from these sources are often intermittent and not present or detectable during inspection. (baltimore county md.)”

In 2002 the Department of Environmental Protection conducted water quality testing on the Housatonic River Basin. They concluded that all sections of the Housatonic River were impaired (in other words those sections did not meet water quality standards) one of the causes being elevated fecal coliform bacteria.

In 2015, BEAT and its partners, the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA), the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC), and the City of Pittsfield resolved to find the source of fecal coliform bacteria.


Why survey during dry weather conditions?
short answer: it allows us to locate point-source pollution. 

Dry weather conditions means that it has not rained in the previous 72 hours. If it has not rained in 72 hours but the outfall is discharging liquid then it begs the question-if it is not rain then what is the liquid?

Potentially, it is a source of pollution. And as BEAT’s surveying has demonstrated thus far, even in dry weather conditions, a minority of outfalls in Pittsfield transport some sort of liquid to waterbodies.

That liquid, or flow, will be collected and analyzed to determine whether or not it is a source of pollution.


Who is doing the surveys?

short answer: anyone interested

BEAT’s mission statement is “working with you to protect the environment”. The “you” can be anyone able to walk the river. All ages and all abilities are welcome to help out.

How to deal with pollution from stormwater/runoff

short answer: there are many potential solutions, one of which is rain gardens

As previously mentioned, stormwater can contain pollutants, whether it be motor oil, chemicals, sediments, salt, ect. BEAT would like to highlight one solution: rain gardens.

Rain gardens are considered a “Low Impact Development” technique that mimic the natural environment. Essentially it is a group of plants that collect rainwater, filter out pollutants, and allow the water to infiltrate the ground rather than enter the stormwater system. Essentially, they look like gardens and act like filters. Just like gardens they also beautify and create habitat for birds and butterflies. And just like gardens they are relatively easy to install and maintain.