As featured in the November/December 2011 issue of the Sustainable Laboratory Times

Stormwater Management: How Going with the Flow Can Help Your Facility Go Green

The International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories

Lots of work is involved in designing plumbing systems inside buildings, but what about water that flows outside of buildings? That's where stormwater management practices come into play. Stormwater management has received more attention in the past few years due to increased federal requirements and guidance, interest in lowering the amount of municipal water used for landscape irrigation, and increased attention to pollution removal from stormwater runoff before it reaches our waterways. Sustainable stormwater management practices, commonly known as low impact development, include rain gardens, green roofs, bioswales, permeable pavement and pavers, and rainwater harvesting. These practices allow runoff to filter through the soil on site, which recharges groundwater and supplies and improves water quality because runoff is filtered through the soil as it absorbs into the ground. In addition, infiltrating and detaining rainwater and runoff on site reduces the volume of runoff that enters the traditional stormwater treatment system directly after a rain event. Reducing runoff volume decreases flooding events and results in less stream channel erosion.

University of Rhode Island Outdoor Rain Garden. Architect: Payette. Photo credit: Warren Jagger Photography

Outside view of the CBLS building.

Labs21 2011 Annual Conference tour attendees saw multiple examples of how stormwater management practices have been implemented on laboratory sites. At the University of Rhode Island (URI) Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences (CBLS) in Kingston, Rhode Island, a beautiful rain garden welcomes visitors to the facility. Rainwater from the roof is directed down to ground level and under a walkway into the garden. The garden also absorbs rainwater falling directly into and around it. As rainwater flows through the garden, pollutants are removed as the rainwater is absorbed into the ground, resulting in reduced, cleaner runoff that is treated on site. URI CBLS also boasts a green roof, which captures and detains rainwater. The rain garden and green roof both use native vegetation that requires minimal irrigation with municipal water, resulting in lower water bills for the facility. Both areas increase site aesthetics as the garden provides a pleasant entryway and sitting area for visitors while the roof provides a relaxing view for those in the adjoining wing.

The Labs21 2011 Annual Conference tour of the EPA Atlantic Ecology Division (AED) Laboratory, located in Narragansett, Rhode Island, also showcased sustainable stormwater management in action. EPA completed a 3,000-square-foot green roof in 2009, which captures rainwater, filters pollutants, and reduces the volume of stormwater runoff. In 2011, the facility augmented the green roof by adding a 1,200-gallon cistern, which captures excess rainwater through drains in the green roof, allowing the facility to reuse this rainwater for irrigation during dry periods.

These facilities are just two examples of how low-impact development can help improve water quality and site aesthetics while reducing runoff volumes. Consider applying similar low impact development stormwater management practices in your next laboratory project!