The University of Arizona was recognized this week by the Environmental Protection Agency for a proposed campus project to harvest rainwater and reduce storm water pollution.
The UA was awarded second prize among large institutions in the EPA's first-ever Campus RainWorks Challenge, a new design competition created to inspire the next generation of landscape architects, planners and engineers to develop innovative green infrastructure systems that reduce storm water pollution and support sustainable communities.
The UA is one of four winning schools. The Arizona team consisted of graduate students Micaela Machado and Rayka Robrecht in the College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture, under the direction of faculty adviser Ron Stoltz, UA professor of landscape architecture.
The Campus RainWorks Challenge engages students and faculty members at colleges and universities to apply green infrastructure principles and design, foster interdisciplinary collaboration and increase the use of green infrastructure on campuses across the nation.
Teams of undergraduate and graduate students work with faculty advisers to develop innovative green infrastructure designs for a site on their campus, showing how managing storm water at its source can benefit the campus community and the environment.
The UA team's design plan proposed redevelopment of the 70,000-square-foot parking lot near the College of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape Architecture, or CAPLA.
The proposed design would replace the lot with a campus common area featuring two rings of retention basins to infiltrate storm water runoff, five underground cisterns to harvest runoff and heating and air conditioning condensate from the adjacent buildings, and a translucent shade structure with an ephemeral water feature. Water collected in the underground cisterns would be used to irrigate the landscape, reducing potable water use from 700,000 to 90,000 gallons a year.
The project, which is explained in detail in an online video, draws on the five guiding principles of CAPLA's award-winning Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory, a campus green space focused on water sustainability, mitigating the urban heating effect, reducing urban flooding, reconnecting with nature and creating an interpretive oasis.
While the parking lot project is only in the proposal phase, Stoltz expects it could be implemented in the future.
"These students are outstanding, and they did a truly integrated project that brought together science and design," Stoltz said. "This would be a really attractive location and would be iconic on campus. It is consistent with the direction many University projects are going."
For winning second place, the UA was awarded $8,000 to be used for green infrastructure research. That money will go toward a creating a "green roof" on top of the CAPLA building – a space for desert plants to grow that will provide building insulation, help reduce urban flooding and create a habitat for birds and insects. The students also will split a $1,500 cash prize.
Storm water is one of the most widespread challenges to water quality in the nation. Large volumes of storm water pollute the nation's streams, rivers and lakes, posing a threat to human health and the environment and contributing to downstream flooding.
Yet, in the dry Arizona desert, storm water can also play an important role, which the UA team took into consideration in its proposal, Stoltz notes.
"Storm water in many places is considered a hazard; we consider it an opportunity. We approached it as an asset, not a liability," he said. "Storm water and condensate are the new urban aquifers for us, and we need to utilize that water in a responsible way."
The Campus Rainworks Challenge received submissions from 218 teams, which were reviewed by more than 30 expert judges from EPA, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Water Environment Federation and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Many of the submissions proposed transformative additions to the campus landscape that would reduce storm water impacts while educating students about the movement of water through the urban environment.
The winning teams were selected based on six criteria: analysis and planning, preservation or restoration of natural features, integrated water management, soil and vegetation management, value to campus, and likelihood of implementation.
Other challenge winners were the University of Florida, Gainesville (first prize, large institution), the Illinois Institute of Technology (first prize, small institution) and the Missouri University of Science and Technology (second prize, small institution). Teams from Kansas State University, Columbia University, California State Polytechnic University and University of Texas-Arlington were recognized as honorable mentions for their entries.