Students buzzed with excitement on the fourth floor of the Davis Center on a Wednesday afternoon in late March. They had just heard John Todd, a leader in ecological design and engineering, present his latest plans to develop a research vessel/classroom/floating restorer to clean up pollution in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Todd, professor emeritus in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, gave the keynote address at the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Symposium held March 31. Hosted by the Green Infrastructure Collaborative, a cooperative effort between Lake Champlain Sea Grant and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the symposium connected college students and green stormwater professionals.
Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) refers to a collection of practices used to slow the flow of stormwater and increase water infiltration into the ground. Stormwater experts increasingly use GSI in Vermont as a way to reduce pollutant runoff from developed lands into rivers and lakes.
Following Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, Gov. Peter Shumlin issued a directive to state agencies to work together in prioritizing use of green stormwater infrastructure as a tool to manage stormwater volume and pollutant loads associated with development.
Vermont municipalities, homeowners, and businesses use rain gardens, constructed wetlands, pervious pavement, rain barrels and cisterns to slow the flow. These infrastructural techniques reduce the amount of water flowing into storm drains and natural water bodies by slowing it down, spreading it out and soaking it in to the ground.
Industry and government leaders in Vermont know that this green method for tackling human impacts on the water cycle is the wave of the future. They need smart, engaged people in professional fields to implement, regulate and educate about GSI.
This need became the inspiration for the symposium – helping students learn more about GSI and engage with professionals in the fields of landscape architecture, engineering, community development, academic research and urban planning. Students from UVM, St. Michael’s College, Norwich University, and SUNY Plattsburgh attended the event.
Speakers emphasized how green stormwater infrastructure can be used to manage stormwater while enhancing biodiversity, providing neighborhood beautification and creating spaces for community gathering. Researchers highlighted the role of natural green infrastructure on the landscape and how conservation of these critical areas has real monetary value for water quality and flood protection.
Professionals in the field spoke directly to students when they described the wide range of skills needed in green stormwater infrastructure careers – from science and engineering to community outreach and education.
Ecological design students present projects
Students already actively involved presented research posters from class and thesis projects. Advanced Ecological Design students Kensey Hanson, Mollie Gerber and Jessica Wymer are designing a rain garden for Landry Park in Winooski. The existing rain garden, originally built in 2007 and damaged by road regrading and sediment build-up, no longer functions to slow and treat runoff into Morehouse Brook. The brook, on the state’s impaired waters list, does not pass EPA guidelines for stream health. Green stormwater infrastructure is a viable option to reduce pollutant runoff and improve stream water quality.
The student team reimagined the garden and recommends a terraced approach to improve infiltration on the steep site and allow plants space to thrive and beautify a residential roadside. Through this real-world setting, the students learned site assessment techniques, rain garden design, use of optimal growth media and plant selection methods.
The symposium provided a platform for the students to share their knowledge with colleagues and get feedback from design and engineering professionals as they refine their thinking. They will share their final design with the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District who hope to implement the plan in the coming season.
To conclude his keynote speech, Todd assured the audience that it is “possible to do good things in bad places.” The use of living machines, rain gardens, rain barrels, and other green stormwater infrastructure can reduce pollution or clean contaminated water, even in places thought impossible to restore.