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Urban Stormwater Management Research and Outreach

Lake Champlain studies green stormwater infrastructure

by Elissa Schuett, Lake Champlain Sea Grant

Climate models predict increased deluges of rainfall for the northeastern United States. Exacerbating this problem are impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots in urban landscapes, which do not allow for the infiltration of the water into soil. Stormwater flows directly into local waterways through storm sewers, carrying with it pollutants and sediment.

Lake Champlain Sea Grant is funding Dr. Stephanie Hurley and Dr. Carol Adair, of The University of Vermont (UVM), to study the stormwater treatment performance of bioretention rain gardens, a type of “green stormwater infrastructure.” The research at the UVM Bioretention Laboratory compares water quality across different soil media, vegetation, and hydrologic regimes used in combination to determine the treatment that best reduces sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen from stormwater runoff. Soil moisture, plant and microbial biomass and greenhouse gas production are also being measured in this outdoor laboratory.

According to Dr. Hurley, “Even in the first year of monitoring, we have learned important lessons that can be applied to green stormwater infrastructure in a variety of settings around the Basin, including residential, commercial and institutional sites.” The project will enable researchers to make recommendations regarding the attributes of bioretention systems that are the most resilient, robust, flexible, and ultimately sustainable, for use in urban areas.

Communities have begun to embrace the use of bioretention and other green stormwater infrastructure practices as tools to reduce polluted runoff.  Installations of rain gardens, rain barrels, pervious pavement and other management techniques are becoming more common on public and private property around Chittenden County and elsewhere in Vermont.

Outreach programs led by Lake Champlain Sea Grant provide information for the public to engage in the shift to a more decentralized stormwater management effort. The “Let It Rain” Stormwater program, a partnership with the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District, provides technical and financial assistance for property owners to install green stormwater infrastructure where it can make the most impact.

The “Connecting the Drops” project is in its second year, and aims to increase the visibility of the Let it Rain Stormwater Program while engaging with the community through the arts. Local professional artists adorn rain barrels in their chosen media. The collection of striking barrels is then displayed in prominent outdoor locations as a cohesive exhibit and paired with panels of an illustrated Stormwater Story telling the tale of stormwater pollution in Vermont and what each of us can do to mitigate our impact.  

Both the academic research and public education campaign focus on taking action to reduce stormwater pollution. The combination of scientific research and public outreach on the same topic allows Lake Champlain Sea Grant to make direct connections for our audiences that reflect the cutting edge of the green stormwater infrastructure field.  

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