Partnership hopes to address Lake Ellis stormwater runoff

View of Lake Ellis in Athol.

View of Lake Ellis in Athol. FILE PHOTO BY GREG VINE

The April 25 meeting of the Lake Ellis Watershed Management Partnership, where options to address stormwater runoff were reviewed.

The April 25 meeting of the Lake Ellis Watershed Management Partnership, where options to address stormwater runoff were reviewed. PHOTO BY GREG VINE


For the Athol Daily News

Published: 04-30-2024 5:00 PM

ATHOL – Steps are being taken to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff that makes its way into Lake Ellis.

Planning and Development Director Eric Smith told members of the Lake Ellis Watershed Management Partnership that the town plans to apply for a federal Environmental Protection Agency Section 319 Grant to control the amount of what is known as “nonpoint source pollution” making its way into the lake.

Nonpoint pollution, according to the EPA website, is “caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters.”

“We’re looking to make some stormwater improvements in the area by the town beach, not far from the high school” on the north end of the lake, said Smith at the meeting on April 25. “It was identified actually back in 1986 and in a 2021 watershed plan.”

Although Section 319 Grant funding comes from the federal government, the program is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Smith said that unlike most years, in 2025, communities seeking funds from the program do not have to commit to providing a 40% local match for the amount of the grant.

Smith told the partnership that the grant application is due May 24. He also said the amount being sought isn’t yet certain, because the town must decide on one of two strategies for addressing the runoff issue. The initial design for each of those approaches, and cost estimates, are being worked out by the engineering firm Wright-Pierce.

“We’re still waiting to hear back from them,” Smith told the Athol Daily News. “The plan is that this committee is hoping to review what they come up with for options and be able to vote on a recommendation to support the project. I attended a meeting the state had on this grant program, and we’re probably looking at between a $100,000 and $200,000 project.”

Smith said the town would likely hear back on its application by the end of the year.

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“Typically, these grants are submitted in the spring and by the late summer or fall you get notification of the award status,” he said. “If we get the award of a grant for this project, it probably wouldn’t be until 2025 that we begin construction on the project.”

Much of the impetus for addressing the issue of stormwater runoff stems from a Lake Ellis Watershed Management Plan prepared by the environmental engineering and design firm of Weston & Sampson in 2021.

“The storm drains themselves were identified previously in a study going back to December 1987,” Smith said. “This is basically untreated stormwater that’s filtering in right near the town beach.”

The stormwater enters the lake through a 48-inch drainpipe just west of the public beach, at the southern end of the high school property. Much of the stormwater that runs into the lake at the northern end of Lake Ellis, Smith explained, comes from the area of the Bearsden Conservation Area and the neighborhood between Colonial Drive and Bearsden Road.

Weston & Sampson had proposed two solutions, according to Smith. One called for moving the storm drain farther west, away from the beach. The other, said Smith, “…was something called bioremediation, (installing) bioremediation swails upgradients from the storm drain. Plants would be planted in the bioremediation swails to help filter out some of those pollutants.”

Smith said that he, Assistant Public Works Director Paul Raskevitz, and Thomas Hogan of Wright-Pierce met to take a look at the drainpipe and the area around it. Smith said he’s not sure to where the pipe could possibly be moved.

“We don’t know where you could put it,” he said. “It was recommended we reestablish the outflow, and it just seems like it would take a herculean effort to do that. We just don’t know where we would be able to relocate the northern drain at this point in time.”

He also said the $12,000 cost of moving the storm drain seemed unrealistically low.

“So, I think we’re really looking at doing something with bioremediation” he said. “That would provide some pre-treatment of the runoff that comes into the lake at that location. It’s almost like a natural wetlands system.”

The Lake Ellis Watershed Management Partnership is scheduled to meet on May 15 to formally decide which alternative for handling the stormwater runoff it prefers. The meeting will take place in the small conference room at Athol Public Library at 4 p.m.

Greg Vine can be reached at