Since adopting a comprehensive water quality improvement plan in 2016, the Village of Sag Harbor has received more than $1.2 million in funding for a dozen projects that are elegant in the simple way they seek to stop pollutants from road runoff from entering the bay and groundwater.
Most of the projects call for the planting of rain gardens, which make use of native plants with extensive root systems to filter out pollutants, or the installation of permeable paving blocks, which collect runoff in gravel-lined basins, allowing it to seep slowly into the groundwater instead of overwhelming catch basins, many of which flow directly to the bay.
Earlier this month, the Town of East Hampton agreed to ante up an additional $230,000 to cover half the cost of yet another project along a section of Bay Street that has been targeted for attention in the plan.
Mary Ann Eddy, the chairwoman of the village Harbor Committee, said the project would involve planting a rain garden and installing permeable paving stones for six to eight more parking spaces on Bay Street near the Breakwater Yacht Club. It would also connect two other already approved projects, one that will install rain gardens and permeable pavement on Bay Street at Marine Park and another that will add rain gardens along Bay Street between High Street and the entrance to Havens Beach.
Ms. Eddy stressed that the project that was recently funded by East Hampton Town through its Community Preservation Fund, still needs to be funded to the tune of 50 percent after being rejected by a federal grant program. The village, she said, would continue to explore funding sources for the project or possibly scale it back in size.
“I think we have been incredibly fortunate to receive funding for these projects,” she said. “And the reason we are doing this is the runoff ends up impacting water quality. These rain gardens capture runoff, which is a major source of the nitrogen entering our bays.”
Rusty Schmidt, a landscape ecologist with Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, the village’s environmental consultant, is a strong advocate for rain gardens and similar installations.
He said the first 1.2 inches of rainfall contain the most polluted water. “If we can capture the first 1.2 inches, we have done 90 percent of the cleaning needed,” he said. Additional rainfall that is collected by rain gardens or permeable pavers helps reduce road flooding, he added.
“We do have a point of diminishing returns,” he said. “Just because we can build bigger, doesn’t mean we can be more successful.”
The next project for which ground will be broken will be the Marine Park permeable pavement and rain garden project. Although the plan had been for work to begin this week, Mr. Schmidt said there would be about a one-month delay because it has been difficult to find the blue or green colored paving stones the village wants to install to raise awareness about the project and its impacts.
The pavers have gaps between them and are perforated “like a colander that lets the water go through,” he said. That water will be collected in a three-foot, gravel lined basin that will be able to retain the first five inches of rainfall. In the event of a major storm, like a nor’easter or hurricane, the excess rain would be directed to an outflow pipe that would lead to the bay.
Although the goal is to collect the first 1.2 inches of rainfall, Mr. Schmidt said the larger capacity of the system would “help mitigate for those crazy storms,” although it would not be able to prevent the massive funding that often accompanies a major storm.