Flood-prone watershed is focus of nearly $1M project

By Judy Benson, The Day

Scene of some of the worst of the floods of 2010, Canonchet Road in Hopkinton, R.I., leads past farms, homes, a small church, a plastics factory and a hodgepodge of man-made structures meant to control the flow of water.

On a late June morning, after inspecting the shallow earthen dam that blocks Canonchet Brook to form Ashville Pond, Maren Frisell and her team stopped at a concrete culvert built to let a small stream flow under the road.

Someone had placed a wire basket around the culvert opening on one end to keep the pipe from clogging with leaves, sticks and other debris.

After water resources engineer Rachael Weiter waded into the water with a flashlight, it was clear the wire basket was only marginally effective. Behind the culvert, water ponded into a small swamp. Dragonflies soared over the cattails. Bullfrogs gulped.

Across the road, a trickle of water gurgled out of the culvert toward a curious kind of concrete funnel that constricted the unnamed stream to two small openings.

“It’s an interesting structure — a double weir,” said Frisell, who also is a water resources engineer. “I don’t know why anyone would put that structure here. It just causes backflow issues.”

Since early June, Frisell, Weiter and intern Zach Valerio have been poking around culverts, dams and bridges throughout the 300-square-mile watershed of the Wood and Pawcatuck rivers to assess how these structures intended to manage water for the human environment may instead be making roads, homes and businesses more prone to flooding.

The three are doing the field work component of a flood resiliency project headed by the engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill.

In all, 550 structures in the watershed’s 14 towns will be measured and inspected by the end of the summer, including some in the Connecticut towns of Stonington, North Stonington, Voluntown and Sterling.

“The whole goal is to make recommendations to reduce the flood hazard,” Frisell said.

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