Rainwater Gardens in the Borough of State College Prepared by Students of Geography 030 Ross Noe Ashley Reed Ali Goldstein Ryan Parisi Katie Rudowsky Edited by Seth Baum, Greg Lankenau, and Seth Wilberding Penn State University Fall 2009
Executive Summary: Introduction: When it rains, water usually drains into grass and dirt, and is naturally filtered before entering a water system. This natural filtering process does not happen in urban areas with impervious surfaces such as street, driveways, parking lots, and roofs. Instead of moving slowly through layers of plants and soil, water runs quickly over the ground, picking up pollutants, and deposits directly into storm drains. Unlike water going down a drain in a house, water from storm drains goes directly into local water systems, and can have a serious impact on ecosystems (“LID Practices for Storm Water Management”). Many common stormwater pollutants have adverse effects on the environment. Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers can cause algae blooms, which harm aquatic life by blocking sunlight and depleting oxygen. Oil and grease from cars can make a thin toxic film over water that prevents oxygen transfer for aquatic animals. Sand and gravel causes sediment that decreases visibility and reduces fish populations. Heavy metals from batteries, air-conditioning coolants, tires, motor oil, brake linings, and car exhaust have many bad affects. They are toxic to humans and animals alike, and drinking water polluted with metals can make people sick. Similarly, bacteria from stormwater can also make people sick. Besides microscopic toxins, large debris can also impact an ecosystem. Animals can choke and die on plastic bags, cigarette butts, and other garbage (“Removing Pollutants From Storm Water”). Preventing stormwater runoff is especially important to the borough of State College because in the past, the borough has used forms of stormwater management that and has spent a lot of money tearing apart the streets to put in large pipes. A newer, more environmentally friendly method of stormwater management is the building of a rain garden installation. These are areas with native plants that let rainwater drain into the earth instead of stormwater drains. Our project proposes the building of one of these raingardens on the corner of Allen Street and Beaver Avenue to filter stormwater from going into the drain at this corner (“Watersheds”). Data Collection Methods: To get to our final idea of a proposed rainwater garden on Allen Street, we first started with broad research and narrowed it down. Our topic that was assigned to use was land use, and pretty early on we began to research stormwater management possibilities for the State College area. Internet sources, such as Proquest and Geobase, provided us with a base understanding of stormwater management and its overall effects on the environment. We felt that it was very important to get a good understanding of stormwater management and the various different ways in which it benefits the community and encourages sustainability. Upon getting a base understanding of our topic, we proceeded to interview professionals to get a good grasp on stormwater management. The professionals that we inquired interviews with were Professors Stuart Echols
and Eliza Pennypacker. Both of these Professors work within the Landscape Architecture department at school. Professor Echols, who we interviewed first, provided us with many more ideas about how to incorporate a useful design in the state college area. He mentioned creating a rainwater garden that could be built in a sidewalk to would allow stormwater runoff to naturally seep back into the ground. Professor Echols also gave us a website that he was involved in designing that had many different rainwater designs from various cities across the country. Our interview with Professor Pennypacker focused more on an existing rainwater garden that was recently constructed in State College. She provided us with good information on how create a successful garden and provided us with some ideas as to the best possible places in town to propose one. Our final step in our data collection process was to conduct on site research. We proceeded to go to Allen Street, which was where we wanted to create the garden, and studied the area to find the best possible site. Using all of our previous knowledge, we came to the conclusion that the southwest corner of Allen Street and Beaver Avenue would be the perfect place to suggest a rainwater garden. Ultimately our research started general and was narrowed down to generate our proposed idea. Results: In finalizing our proposal we met with Pennsylvania State University faculty with concentrations in rainwater design and did hands on field work in the projected area on the corner of Allen Street and Barnard Street. As a group we met with Stuart Echols, an Associate Professor in the Landscape Architecture Department within the Pennsylvania State University. He referred us to a useful website - artfulrainwaterdesign.net, which is a local professional Internet site run by several Pennsylvania State University faculty. The website focuses on rainwater filtration management and landscape designs that environmentally reduce pollution, sustain water balance, and use a hydrology configuration. Many of the rainwater designs that Echols uses in his work are designs built throughout Portland, Oregon. We were able to view several different types of natural rainwater filtration system designs from Portland that he has incorporated into designs he has used throughout the East Coast. Echols also gave us helpful hints, such as finding small, non-threatening, and reversible areas, to attain a key site within the Borough to propose a successful water filtration system. These hints included finding small, nonthreatening, and reversible areas, and considering heavy pedestrian circulation and preexisting damage on sites. The first natural rainwater filtration system within the Borough of State College was proposed and built on Barnard Street recently with the help of several Pennsylvania State Universityâ€™s faculty. One faculty member that was part of this pilot project, Eliza Pennypaker, was able to sit down with our group to help us gain better insight into the design.
The Barnard Street project was proposed because of drainage and pond issues on a highly visible street area. The design was meant to originally be constructed into a bowl shape to allow rainwater to successfully run into drains beneath the landscape. Pennypaker also discussed the importance of durable and native plants in the landscape designs. The Barnard Street designers used plants that are native, but focused on plants that would successfully survive throughout a year, as opposed to the absorbency of them. Several of these plants included sedum, sedge, rush grass, sea oat, red twig dogwood, and blue fescue. We have proposed a similar space on the corner of Allen Street and Beaver Avenue due to the high visibility, popularity of Allen Street, and pre-existing damage in the front of the Growing Tree Toys toy store. Unfortunately, the Schlow Center Library across the street is beautifully landscaped, which consequently leads the area in front of the toy store to detract from pedestrian appeal. By viewing several pictures of the green streets in Portland, Oregon, such as North Siskiyou Street. This street was proposed and designed into a successful residential green street. We have learned that by designing areas of naturally landscaped filtration in place of parked cars, traffic will become safer and positively slower. In the case of North Siskiyou Street, it is successfully respected because of suburban area in the community. The proposed area of the project in the State College Borough is one of the busiest pedestrian streets, especially during Arts Fest. With rainwater filtration gardens in place the street would be aesthetically landscaped and environmentally sustainable at the same time. As stated earlier, the proposed area in front of the Growing Tree Toys toy store is aesthetically detracting from the landscaping of the Schlow Center Library. Our group visited the site and took pictures to gain more ideas of different ways of designing natural rainwater filtration systems. Some of these ideas included building a garden in the parking area directly above the drain or planting on top of the drain. The ideas would help the popular street corner in many ways, including a reduction in automobilesâ€™ speeds and flooding that flows to the bottom of Allen Street. The proposed project is the beginning of a pilot project that should be done throughout the Borough of State College to promote sustainability and an environmentally friendly community. Not only will the rainwater gardens be aesthetically pleasing, but they will also be the next step in achieving a healthy community, state, and world. Policy Recommendation: After our extensive research into environmentally friendly land-use, focusing on stormwater drainage, we have come to find that simple, natural drainage techniques can be utilized throughout the Borough of State College. These techniques could potentially provide cleaner water, reduced water sanitation costs, and a more aesthetically pleasing
town. We propose constructing a rain garden on the corner of Allen Street and Beaver Avenue across from the Shclow Centre Region Library. The area we wish to convert consists of a parking space and striped off area, that is not being used for anything currently, just outside the Growing Tree Toystore. This side of Allen Street looks quit unattractive in comparison to be beautiful library with its small gardens and planted trees. Our garden will mimic many of aspects from the pilot project on Barnard Street, which was just recently installed. Some of the same plants could be used: sedum, sedge, rush, sea oats, red twig dogwood, blue fescue (Pennypacker). Other plants could also be used, preferably plants that are evergreen, require little maintenance, can withstand drought conditions, and are aesthetically pleasing. In this design we also call for some kind of signage to inform the general public what is going on at the site. This signage could be as simple as embossing an explanation on the surrounding concrete. There are many ways to go about the reformation this site that will achieve the same stormwater drainage goals. These types of rain gardens are extremely affective in filtering water if installed in the correct way. The garden should be installed above the drain, so when water runs down the road it enters the garden prior to entering the drainage system (Echols). Also, the gardens should be constructed in a convex fashion so the water sits and has time to infiltrate the soil. Plants within the garden work as natural water filters and also absorb some water making less water within the drainage system itself. Not only do these gardens filter and absorb water run-off, they also add an aspect of beauty to the street. This sort of project hinges on ecocentric ethics (ethics as they apply to the preservation of the natural environment.) We seek to keep our water clean and safe. If water is not proper cleaned before draining into aquatic habitats it can cause an overgrowth of vegetation and harm fish. Moreover, this contaminated water can make its way into our drinking water and harm us. A great way to target this contaminated water is to clean the water that runs over our streets, which are packed with loads of car residue, litter, cigarette butts, etc. Also, by including signage with these types of projects we can keep people informed on how they can help protect the natural environment. Throughout the course of this project we have come to realize the true importance of stormwater management and more importantly, how stormwater management can be done in an attractive manner. Not only will projects such as adding rain gardens along roads affectively filter rainwater, they will also add beauty and value to the town. By installing these gardens and informing the general public about them the Borough of State College can help influence the natural environment in an extremely positive way.
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