Making Rain Work

By Alexandra Aznar, Sustainable Dashboard Intern

After suffering from an epic drought this summer, it can be hard to remember the real frog strangler storms that grace Indiana at times. It rains, it pours, and all that stormwater goes where exactly? Many cities rely on gray stormwater systems composed of underground pipes that whisk water away from where it originally falls. These systems can become overburdened and the water they carry often rushes pollutants built up in cities straight into rivers and lakes.

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Photos of project sites courtesy of Leah Harmon

An alternative system—green infrastructure—aims to design and enhance spaces so that rainwater is treated and retained where it falls. With the aid of native vegetation, soils, stones, and strategic modifications of buildings, green infrastructure provides urban areas with a more sustainable way of managing storm water.  You may have heard of permeable pavement, rain gardens, and green roofs –all of which are examples of green infrastructure. The benefits are many and varied including improved water and air quality, less soil erosion, and flood mitigation.

A group of IU students are implementing a green infrastructure project designed to slow the flow of stormwater runoff in two natural settings on the Bloomington campus: Dunn’s Woods and the Research Teaching Preserve.  Both these areas are existing green infrastructure that naturally catch rainwater, but are plagued by a high volume and velocity of water that causes erosion after storms. The students seek to boost the areas’ capacity to handle urban water runoff.

The students who hail mostly from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs graduate program call themselves The Cutters—a name intended to evoke the image of traditional craftsman who shaped Indiana limestone into elegant structures, some of which we see on campus today. Limestone boulders, in fact, are one of the natural materials the group has added to their green infrastructure designs as well as native plants which will be grouped together to form buffer zones and berms.

The Cutters have applied for a grant funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to aid them in the implementation and monitoring of their green infrastructure sites.  To learn more about green infrastructure and see examples of various designs implemented in cities across the United States, visit the EPA’s website: http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/greeninfrastructure/index.cfm.

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