Prototype project on Auburn campus saves water, feeds beautiful rain garden

Getting the Most out of the Rains that Fall on the PlainsAUBURN UNIVERSITY – Stormwater runoff in urban areas has long had detrimental effects on the environment as buildings and pavement prevent rainwater from filtering into the ground the way it does in a forest or natural field. In an urban setting, the water runs off into storm drains, collecting pollutants on its way downstream. On the Auburn University campus, the water flows into Parkerson Mill Creek, on to Mobile Bay and ultimately into the Gulf of Mexico.

Pulling together funding from Auburn’s Facilities Management and a Parkerson Mill Creek grant, a team of Auburn experts has developed a way to mimic that natural infiltration process. On a shop building adjacent to Dudley Hall, rainwater is collected through a draining system and flows to a 1,000-gallon cistern. The overflow water is diverted to a neighboring rain garden, where it collects and seeps slowly into the ground.

“The rain garden is an interesting pilot project that introduces students to best practices in water conservation and stormwater management,” said Dan King, assistant vice president for Facilities Management. “Achieving a sustainable campus environment will likely require many small-scale projects like this.”

Charlene LeBleu, associate professor of landscape architecture in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction, led a team of students in designing the project and selecting the plants that thrive in a rain garden environment. Building science students built the conveyance system that carries the water from the cistern to the garden.

“We want to work toward disconnecting more downspouts on campus so we can have more water infiltration,” said LeBleu. “When water infiltrates, it raises the level of our stream water and you don’t get flash floods after a hard rain.”

Over the next three years, the team will monitor the chemical analysis of the roof water, particularly the level of nitrates in the water, and measure the infiltration of the water through the rain garden. They also will see which plants grow the best and how effective rain gardens are in clay-type soil.

“We don’t have to use expensive city water to irrigate plants, so if we’ve got cisterns, that water can be used to water the landscape,” said Mike Kensler, director of the Office of Sustainability and co-developer of the Dudley Hall project. “It’s free water basically, and in some places it can be used to flush toilets, water plants, really anything except drinking water.”

Similar projects have been built at Auburn’s Southeastern Raptor Center and Donald E. Davis Arboretum.

For related links and images, go to the Auburn University website at http://ocm.auburn.edu/featured_story/rainwater.html.

(Written by Jourdan Cooper.)

Contact: Mike Kensler, Office of Sustainability, (334) 844-7777 (mdk0003@auburn.edu),
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)