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The three bioswales on campus, including this one outside
the Slavin Center, collect and filter water. Through plants
and soils, bioswales remove contaminants as the water
seeps back into the ground.

​PC Takes the Lead in Stormwater Management

Every time it rains or snows, Rhode Island’s waterways and natural water resources are at risk of being polluted by stormwater runoff.

During large storms, rain and melted snow runs off roofs, parking lots, and lawns, picking up water contaminants from sidewalk salt, lawn fertilizers, and oils from paved surfaces. This tainted water washes down drains and filters into area streams, lakes, and eventually, Narragansett Bay.

While most of Rhode Island’s colleges and universities have stormwater management programs for specific projects around their campuses, Providence College is the only higher-education institution in the state to adopt a campus-wide stormwater management master plan to help alleviate this persistent ecological problem.

According to Gale A. Gennaro, director of environmental health and safety, the College’s Low Impact Development (LID) approach to stormwater master planning mimics natural hydrologic conditions by managing stormwater as close to its source as possible. This approach complements the College’s overall environmental and sustainability goals for the campus.

“We’re trying to mitigate stormwater impacts downstream from the campus by keeping as much stormwater on site as possible,” said Gennaro. “Previously, we would control stormwater by capturing runoff in large underground cement tanks that would slowly release the water over time. Although this method controlled flooding, it did little to remove contaminants or restore groundwater.”

“By taking a low-impact approach, we’re now allowing the water to infiltrate back into the ground, which restores the natural hydrological conditions and improves the overall ecosystem.”

Gennaro, Kevin Harrop ’77, a civil engineer with Caputo and Wick, Ltd., and Steve Lallo ’95 of the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC), which oversees stormwater regulations along with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, recently presented a case study of PC’s stormwater plan at the New England Water Environment Association Conference in Boston. The presentation encapsulated how PC’s campus projects have substantially reduced stormwater flows to the commission’s combined sewer system.

The trio highlighted PC’s desire “to do things the right way,” and how in 2003, under the direction of Mark F. Rapoza ’90SCE, assistant vice president for capital projects and facilities planning, the College established a partnership with the Narragansett Bay Commission to develop an LID stormwater master plan that accounts for stormwater alleviation in all future campus construction.

“Providence College’s open-minded approach to stormwater mitigation has helped make Narragansett Bay cleaner,” said Lallo. “Reduced stormwater means fewer overflows, and that minimizes the time that our treatment facility needs to work. In turn, the bay can be used for more enjoyable activities like shell fishing and swimming.”

Learning in the great outdoors

A major component of the stormwater master plan is the installation of bio-retention gardens. These hollows collect and filter water, and through plants and soils, remove contaminants as the water then seeps back naturally into the ground.

Currently, there are three bioswales on campus — one adjacent to the Slavin Center lawn and two outside Martin Hall. Another will be built this year on the west side of the Albertus Magnus-Hickey-Sowa science complex as part of the construction of the Ruane Center for the Humanities.

Next year, similar configurations will be placed along the walkway from Harkins Hall to the Ruane Center and outside Schneider Arena.

The plantings will be coordinated with faculty so it could serve as an outdoor learning laboratory for science classes, said Gennaro.

“This gives us an opportunity to not only make the area aesthetically pleasing but also to introduce an educational component to enhance student development as well,” said Gennaro.

Lallo is elated that PC is continually creating green space for teaching and enjoyment of the College community.

“Education is done best when you can see it,” said Lallo. “Exposing students to the effects of stormwater will benefit everyone.”

Gennaro is also exploring stormwater prevention technologies such as permeable pavers and subsurface infiltration structures, for use in future campus projects.

“PC’s use of Low Impact Development strategies to control stormwater goes beyond regulatory requirements,” said Gennaro. “Our hope is that our efforts will have a positive impact on the water quality downstream from the campus and ultimately improve Rhode Island’s greatest asset — Narragansett Bay.”

— John Larson

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