Michele Decoteau

Michele Decoteau -- Stormwater Manager

Michele DecoteauClean water is a necessity of life. Pollutant-free rivers are essential for the health of the ecology and the economy, as well as adding to the beauty of a space.  Clear babbling brooks add peace to the soul and provide for the many wild creatures out there in the fields and forests.

Stormwater, the runoff from rain and melting snow, can contain a multitude of contaminants from trash to E. coli bacteria, and managing it is a key to keeping the river clean.

Wilton is in the fourth year of an EPA permit to study and clean the run-off in the urbanized part of town, basically the downtown along the Souhegan River and Stony Brook. That program, the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) program has been managed for the last couple of years by Michele Decoteau, the town’s Land Use Administrator.

“In order to have an MS4 permit, a community needs both an impaired river and dense population surrounding it. Our rivers have bacteria and sediment impairments,” she said recently. “The river is tested regularly by volunteers with the Souhegan Watershed Association, the state through DES, and from time to time, the EPA.” That years-long record provides one of the bases for the study. “But everything is connected. You are always upstream from somebody. Lyndeborough drains into Wilton, Wilton into Milford, and beyond. You have to keep “stuff” out the storm drains.”

Decoteau did not plan to manage stormwater. Growing up in a military family – both parents were nurses – she was born in New York state, graduated from high school in Wyoming and finished college in Florida. “My first career was in neuro-science,” she said, “as a neuro-anatomist.” Her outlook was changed by a power outage at U Mass Medical School where she was working. “I realized I was two floors from the nearest window. I changed to studying environmental science, became a water quality monitor and did a number of different jobs. Rivers and water quality are part of my life.”

She worked with the Massachusetts Watershed Coalition, which supports river protection organizations including the Charles River Watershed Association. “They are innovative in many ways, including their methods of fund-raising.”

Working to protect Wilton’s water quality is only part of what she does. As a Brookline resident, she is part of their trails committee, works on a subcommittee of the Planning Board, and is active with both Girl and Boy Scouts.

Poop station“The Girl Scouts build leadership skills in young women,” she said, and is a very good program. “The Wilton Girl Scouts are exceptionally supportive and active in making the world a better place.” One project they helped with are dog poop bag stations, which began near the elementary school. The Girl Scouts have funded the poop bag stations in Wilton and it is an effective tool.  “A volunteer, Jeff Stone, mapped the area around the school before the poop bag stations were added, marking every place they found dog poop, and it was everywhere.” It’s been checked three times since the poop bag stations were installed and the last time one pile was found. “Keeping dog poop out the river is very important,” she said. There are poop bag stations near the school, in the Main Street Park and along the Riverwalk. “It should be easy for dog owners to pick up after their pooches.”

Involving the community is important. She had a college intern last summer, and is looking for another for this year. “I’m also looking for a high school student, someone who cares about the river. They don’t have to be planning a science career. Just love the river.” Details will be available at the school next month.

Storm drainHigh school students have stenciled storm drains and are working on “Murals” to be painted near some of the drains this spring. “When I started, there were supposedly 13 outfalls (places where water enters the river) in the coverage area, but after our big mapping project last summer, we found there are 68 outfalls and at least 480 “structures” in the MS4 area. That includes storm drains, outfalls and four manholes.”

 “We have a lot of older infrastructure. We are doing inspections to determine what needs to be repaired. It is easier (and cheaper) to replace a culvert in the daytime than it is during a storm or in an emergency. We have to think about the life span of structures, how expensive it will be to fix, and do some risk assessment – the consequences of not doing something.”

“New Public Works Director Mike Tatro “will be my partner in that,” she said. “(Former Road Agent) Brian Adams was a big help. We have a lot more to get done.”

Last summer the water quality study area moved into Stony Brook. “It became quite clear that is where the bacteria were coming from. We have to find out more specifically what the source is now, people or animals. It isn’t wild animals, there aren’t enough of them.”

Trash is another issue, and she is fully supportive of the Adopt-a-Street program. “It will keep the river cleaner.”

Improving water quality in our rivers is an on-going project and there is a place for anyone who would like to help. “We will have opportunities this summer if anyone would like to lend a hand. We will have some raingarden projects, more stenciling, and water quality testing. But everyone can help. Look at your own property to manage stormwater. There are lots of things you can do like build rain barrels, keep your septic system healthy, and reduce chemical use on your lawns. The cleaner the stormwater is when it reaches the river, the better.”

If you want to learn more about the MS4 permit or stormwater in Wilton, you can find the Stormwater Management Page on the Town Website. Decoteau can be reached through the town website as well.

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