Make property owners responsible for swales

Posted 5/27/22

To the editor:

In the rural town in which I live, our road system is slowly failing. Little by little, stormwater is eroding “everything.”  To slow down/redirect the stormwater …

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Make property owners responsible for swales


To the editor:

In the rural town in which I live, our road system is slowly failing. Little by little, stormwater is eroding “everything.”  To slow down/redirect the stormwater and protect the roadways, people have created stormwater management systems of some kind. Without them everything will fail and slowly disintegrate into history.   

The Swale, Drainage Swale, is one of those ignominious, unappreciated, overlooked, mechanisms in the machine that is our roadway networks. In most cities, towns and villages around the world, swales have been integrated into most road networks since the late Stone Age. Anywhere there are roadways, byways, or driveways, you will find a swale. Without them, consistent, high-speed travel (above 25 mph) would be nearly impossible. 

Swales are designed under the scientific truth that water flows downhill — gravity. They are designed to capture/redirect gravity driven stormwater downhill to the creaks and streams that run to the sea, in my case. Could be a lake, could be a pond, etc.      

In the rural Rhode Island town where I live, they’re everywhere. These gravity-driven ditches run parallel to every roadway and divert stormwater runoff from higher elevations to lower elevations without washing out every road and driveway along the way.

But here’s the rub. For a municipality to adequately maintain the hundreds of miles of roads and swales is profoundly expensive. Towns like mine can barely maintain their stormwater management system adequately. Keeping up with Mother Nature isn’t cheap. 

One of the largest culprits of unfettered erosion is land development. As more properties are developed, the effectiveness of our swales is being pushed beyond what is sustainable. Road failures will increase, and their maintenance will exceed town budget parameters dramatically.  Roadway maintenance will bankrupt my town.

Unless the burden of maintaining these swales is placed solely on the property owners with swales on their property, which is just about everyone, they will continue to degrade and fail. The hike in taxes that would be required to maintain and repair damaged swales will far exceed any personal maintenance/expense a homeowner would incur weed whacking their own swale. But if you enjoy flooding, collapsing roadways, and your driveway washing out, do nothing.  Gravity will take care of it all.

Mark Page

Little Compton







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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Media Group team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at