Soil Erosion & Stormwater Management

Land development has a profound influence on the quality and quantity of the state’s waters. Every time it rains, the rainwater that is not absorbed into the ground or evaporated (called runoff) carries contaminants from lawns, streets, buildings and parking lots and deposits them directly into our streams, ponds, and Narragansett Bay.


What is it?  Have you ever noticed water flowing down the street when it rains?  Have you ever wondered where the water flows to?  Have you thought about what’s in the water?  When it rains onto a forest or a field, some of that rain is absorbed by the ground, replenishing groundwater that is used by many for drinking water.  Some of the rain is taken up by plants, and some of it simply evaporates.  But very little of the rain flows over the ground.  In a more developed setting, such as our cities and towns, rain falls onto pavement, or other surfaces such as roofs, sidewalks, parking lots, and driveways that don’t allow the water to be absorbed by the ground. The water that you see flowing down the street is called stormwater runoff.  

Storm Drain Outfall
Storm Drain Outfall 2

Why is it a problem?  When stormwater hits the pavement, it picks up and mixes with what’s there. That might include:
* oil, grease, and automotive fluids;
* fertilizer and pesticides from gardens and homes;
* bacteria from pet waste and improperly maintained septic systems;
* soil from poor construction site management;
* sand from wintertime snow removal;
* soap from car washing;
* debris and litter.


When rain water flows across pavement and down a storm drain, that water is almost always piped directly to the nearest stream, river, or bay. That water almost never goes to a treatment facility.  Most storm drains simply collect rain water and channel it away to prevent flooding, carrying polluted runoff to local water resources.


Bristol Stormwater Management Program

The Rhode Island Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (RIPDES) Program enacted Phase II Stormwater regulations that require operators of municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) to implement programs and practices to minimize pollution from stormwater runoff.  The regulations require MS4s within urbanized or densely populated areas, such as the Town of Bristol, to develop storm water management programs and to obtain RIPDES Phase II storm water permits.  Bristol’s Stormwater Management Plan (SWMP) was first adopted by the Town Council in March 2004 and was amended in September 2008.  The goal of the SWMP is to reduce adverse impacts to water quality, aquatic habitat and human health by instituting the use of controls on the unregulated sources of storm water discharges that have the greatest likelihood of causing continued environmental degradation.

Soil Erosion and Sediment Control at Construction Sites

Excessive quantities of soil may erode from land that is undergoing development for housing developments, commercial construction, filling, and road improvements.  Much of this soil erosion is the result of poorly planned and implemented site grading and surface water runoff controls.  This runoff and resulting erosion may result in conflicts and/or damage with neighboring properties and their owners, and can make costly repairs to drainage structures, roads, and embankments necessary.  The resulting sediment can clog storm drains and road ditches, muddies streams, leaves deposits of silt in ponds and waterways, and is considered a major water pollutant.

muddy construction site

The Town of Bristol has adopted the Soil Erosion, Runoff & Sediment Control Ordinance in an effort to prevent soil erosion, excessive surface water runoff, and sedimentation from occurring as a result of development within the town by requiring proper provisions for storm water disposal and soil erosion during and after construction, in order to promote the safety, public health and general welfare of the town. 

Soil Erosion, Runoff and Sediment Control Permit Application Forms

RI Soil Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook

2012 Stormwater Utility Feasibility Study

The RIDEM in 2012 funded a preliminary feasibility study for the Town of Bristol to consider adoption of a stormwater utility as a potential funding mechanism for the Town’s stormwater management program.

Town Council Presentation
Final Report