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Natick - Local Town Pages

Chasing the Storm(water)

By Sean Sullivan

Getting citizens interested in infrastructure has been a perennial problem for policy makers.
It’s no mystery as to why. The subject of roadwork isn’t sexy, seems to continue interminably, and jams up traffic.
Natick residents will recall the work recently underway along a stretch of Rte. 27. The paving and pothole filling between Routes 9 and 30 clogged traffic for months, making the thoroughfare an avenue much to be avoided. As of this writing, crews were putting the finishing touches on a new rotary where Rte. 27 intersects with Pine Street. 
Yet for all that inconvenience, one must admit that stretch of road is now smooth sailing; its new rotary has streamlined the flow of traffic at a formerly troublesome intersection.  
Now a project is underway to get Natick residents interested in (or at least informed about) the issue of stormwater. The journey and effects of it occur largely out of sight and thus out of mind, flowing through a network of underground passages toward some heretofore mysterious destination.
It’s been said that people get the government they deserve. The same can also be said of infrastructure. On that matter then, educating citizens about the importance and health of our shared public resources is essential.    
With that goal in mind, the medium of art was decided upon as a gateway into the seemingly tedious topic of stormwater. The project will feature murals painted roadside at the corners of the Rte. 27 and 135 intersection, occupying the concrete canvasses that comprised the “Traffic Calming Project” adopted a few years ago.
That project narrowed the roads in places, via the installation of flex posts fastened beyond the curbside. The goal was to reclaim a bit of the roadway with removable structures that rise like exclamation points from the pavement to ward off traffic. It was within these margins that the original artwork was painted, and in which the new stormwater murals will soon take up residence.  
“We wanted to find a way to engage with people who are in the downtown space,” said Claire Rundelli. She works as an environmental agent and conservation planner with the town, and was on the panel that judged and chose artist submissions for the project.
The winner among several applicants, said Rundelli, “felt really fun and colorful and vibrant.”
It was a Natick native’s artwork that was ultimately chosen to speak for the stormwater project. Of the six applicants who vied for the installation, Rebecca McCue’s artist’s proposal made the final cut.
Those murals that will make up the artwork are entitled “Where does stormwater go?” and are designed to answer that question for the public, but also get residents thinking about the potential toxicity of that runoff.
The water that flows into drains often collects an assortment of chemicals and contaminants, which it eventually deposits into local waterways. In recent years, so-called “forever chemicals” have become infamous as a source of concern, showing up in the water that flows into residents’ homes.
Natick recently adopted a costly filter system to weed out such pollutants from its water station situated on Lake Cochituate. Stormwater flows from the downtown area into Pegan Cove, a body of water belonging to a southern part of Lake Cochituate. The lake has been the subject of swimming advisories in recent years, owing to the phenomenon of algae blooms that can be hazardous to health.
Another outlet for Natick stormwater is nearby Dug Pond. McCue learned to swim in the lake as a young girl, and is now seeking to inform residents about the importance of safeguarding our environmental gifts.
McCue now lives in Chicago, where she graduated last year with a degree in Environmental Engineering and Studio Art. Upon seeing the posting for artist proposals for the project, she “thought it was the perfect mixture of my strengths.”
McCue’s education in the environmental field opened her eyes about the issue of stormwater management. She learned, for instance, that there was no filter system, no buffer between that water and the lakes and ponds the public relies upon.
“I assumed there was something happening in between,” said McCue.
It’s realizations of that sort that can get even disengaged residents curious and concerned about the subject of infrastructure. Another eye-opening detail, said McCue, is what kinds of contaminants actually comprise stormwater.
That list includes trash, oil and other automotive fluids, and pet waste – all of which are featured in the murals she’s scheduled to complete this month.
“Some visual aids of everything you can find in stormwater,” she said.
But there are solutions, too.
McCue identified rain barrels as one way residents can stem the flow of stormwater and everything that goes with it.
The water collected in barrels remains relatively clean, can be used to hydrate lawns and gardens, and ends up in the water table instead of lakes and ponds. To keep things as environmentally-friendly as possible, McCue has also solicited donations of unwanted paint and other materials for the stormwater project.
“I’m really excited to see everything that’s collected.”