PONDSIDE—Jamaica Pond is best known for natural beauty, walking paths, sailboats and fishing. But it also has a less attractive role: the catch basin for storm sewers that run directly into the pond from adjacent streets.
At least two pipes from Parkman Drive storm sewers run into the pond on its western side.
“Whatever’s on the road goes right into the pond,” local parkways activist Kevin Handly noted to the Gazette last year, citing salt and oil as concerns. “From an environmental perspective and a pond preservation perspective, you don’t want to have stormwater runoff…going straight into the pond without any treatment whatsoever.”
But in fact, that’s exactly how storm sewers work, according to the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which maintains the parkways around the pond.
“As for flowing into the pond, that’s what storm drains do,” said DCR spokesperson Wendy Fox. “That’s how the system works.” She noted that DCR has an Environmental Protection Agency permit for the drains.
“Ultimately, everything drains into the [Boston] harbor,” said BWSC spokesperson Tom Bagley.
Bagley noted that storm sewers typically have “traps” that catch debris and silt, which are cleaned out on a regular basis. He said Boston storm sewers run into various bodies of water, including the Charles and Neponset rivers, the Stony Brook and Boston Harbor.
Storm sewers are separate from sewer lines that handle human waste from toilets and household drains, which is treated at a plant on Deer Island.
The City of Boston regularly monitors the water quality of Jamaica Pond. “It’s classified as good,” said Mary Hines, spokesperson for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Gerry Wright, head of the Jamaica Pond Project park advocacy organization, said the storm sewer runoff “should be examined” and is “something to question.” But, he said, the biggest issue with runoff may be that it puts nutrients into the
water that feed pond-choking algae.
“It’s not that [the water is] sterile or killing things,” Wright said, adding that there might be no problems with the storm sewers at all.
The Gazette found that one of the storm drains appears to be creating significant erosion on the pond’s shoreline.
The storm sewers were noted with some concern 20 years ago in the Emerald Necklace Parks Master Plan, an official guideline for improving the park system. It cites the sewers as possible “point source water pollution” to monitor regularly, as the City of Boston is now doing.
Two storm sewer pipes are easy to spot during a walk around the pond. One is a ceramic pipe with a broken mouth that sticks out of the pond’s embankment across Parkman Drive from the Francis Parkman Memorial.
During a Gazette visit last year, the pipe was dry. But a large gully cut into the soil made it clear that it flows heavily at times. Someone had packed the gully with large tree branches, possibly to improve walking in the area.
At another spot, a long iron pipe extends far into the pond from the shoreline. It comes from an area where there are several large manholes with covers marked “Boston Sewer” at the intersection of Parkman Drive and Perkins Street.
Stormwater from Jamaica Pond Park’s paved pathways also goes into the pond, with cobblestone gutters installed to channel it. Another long iron drainpipe that extends into the pond next to the boathouse appears to be at least partly for the park’s own drainage.
Handly said he learned that storm sewers drain into the pond after asking DCR officials about a problem drain. A sewer grate on Parkman Drive near the Kelly Circle rotary frequently clogs and overflows on the road.
Last year, Handly said, he saw DCR works bashing a hole in a historic stone wall there to let the flood water flow into Jamaica Pond Park. The workers also dug a large amount of debris from the sewer and dumped it over the wall into the park, he said.
The Gazette observed damage to the wall and a moderate mound of debris that appeared to match what Handly saw.
Fox told the Gazette last month that DCR is making a permanent fix to that drain and to another at the intersection of Perkins and Chestnut streets.