Rowan protecting the environment through engineering

Rowan protecting the environment through engineering

Dr. Jess Everett and his students in the College of Engineering at Rowan University are used to attracting attention for their technology triumphs.

Dr. Jess Everett and his students in the College of Engineering at Rowan University are used to attracting attention for their technology triumphs.

Now they’re attracting it for their gardening.

Everett and team have been spearheading a drive to develop rain gardens on the Glassboro campus, working with a $330,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Watershed Management in conjunction with the Gloucester and Camden County Conservation Districts. The grant has funded a master’s student as well as the engineering clinics. Rowan’s gardens will serve as a demonstration site for Gloucester and Camden counties for future projects elsewhere.

Rain gardens are depressions planted with various flora that absorb runoff that normally would remain on paved surfaces or empty into steams and other waterways. They represent an evolution of retention ponds that developers have used in the past to handle rainwater to prevent it from hitting the street and storm water systems.

Currently, Rowan has two small, student-designed rain gardens near Rowan Hall (the College of Engineering building) and one behind Linden Hall (an administration building) already in place. They are part of engineering clinic projects started more than three years ago.

Everett, a civil and environmental engineering professor, is overseeing the construction of the most ambitious rain garden on campus yet. Designed for the median that divides Parking Lot D off Bowe Boulevard across from Glassboro High School, the latest rain garden — called a bioinfiltration basin — will cover about 0.4 acres.  Contractors have removed the existing brick between the two sides of the lot, dug down two to three feet and installed very permeable soil good for the plants.

The latest venture will include switch grass, coneflower and bee balm as well as service berry and maple. Consulting firm Princeton Hydro, Ringoes, N.J., is constructing the rain garden, led by Rowan Engineering alumnus Clay Emerson. Rowan engineering students developed a mathematical model for the site and helped install monitoring wells and rain gauges, among other tasks.

“When too much runoff enters streams too quickly, they become ‘flashy,’ too big just after a rain and too small between rainfalls,” Everett said. “Pollutants are washed into stream, and high stream flows cause erosion. All of this is bad for aquatic and riparian organisms, such as fish and stream bank plants.”

Brett Hoffmann, 22, of Colonia, has handled several roles for the project. The senior civil and environmental engineering major worked to determine the types of soil that exist under and around the rain garden near Rowan Hall; to determine the direction of the groundwater flow under Lot D, where the new bioinfiltration basin is being installed; and to update a computer model that predicts the amount of runoff from Lot D before and after the biobasins are installed.

“The highlight of this work for me so far has been assessing the flooding issues on campus,” Hoffmann said. “The team had a meeting with Facilities earlier this year and they pointed out the trouble spots they have been having with respect to flooding on campus.  I (with the other team members as well) visit the trouble spots on campus to determine what kinds of drainage structures (storm drains and pipes) currently exist there, the condition of the structures, and we go out during rainstorms to see where the water flows, and if any flooding is occurring (we snap pictures of it if it's occurring). These ‘field trips’ allow the team to determine if the current drainage structures are adequate enough to handle representative rain events, and if they are not adequate enough, we will attempt to provide reasonable solutions to update/fix them to minimize the flooding on campus.”

Rain gardens are really “basic,” according to Everett, but they can make a big difference in the environment. At Rowan they help preserve Chestnut Branch, which runs through campus.

“Our rain gardens help prevent water from running into the street and ending up in the storm water system. Instead, it will enter the ground,” said Everett, who noted the school will offer the rain gardens as an engineering clinic project again in the spring.

Tom Redles, 21, of Blackwood, also is working on the latest rain garden. A junior civil engineering major, Redles believes that the project is not only helping the environment but also him personally.

“I think this project will give me a good knowledge of real-life engineering practice, plus I can take my knowledge from this clinic out into the real world to diversify my knowledge base in different types of civil engineering,” he said.