Stormwater is one of those still-growing sources of water pollution,” says Jamie Piziali, the National Green Infrastructure Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “We were seeing missed op- portunities where folks could be bet- ter managing stormwater with green infrastructure in a more holistic man- ner. We realized that in order for that to happen, as communities continue to develop and weather patterns are shifting, that we would really need innovative planners, designers, and engineers to help us reinvent our na- tion’s infrastructure.”


That was the impetus behind the 2012 launch of the EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge, which pro- motes green infrastructure by award- ing projects on college campuses as a way of ingraining stormwater best practices in students, who will become the infrastructure planners of tomorrow. Now in its sixth year, the EPA’s Cam- pus RainWorks Challenge program investigates the means of small-scale, high-impact interventions by award- ing projects in one of two catego- ries. The only requirements are that teams are from United States-based schools and have faculty advisers. Part of the thrust of the RainWorks Challenge has been to shift cultural perception and actual hydrological practice from gray to green.

Recognizing a need to cultivate field- ready designers and engineers who will be able to confront issues of wa- ter management within shifting cli- mates, Nancy Stoner, then the acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water, led development of the RainWorks Challenge program with the idea that encouraging inter- disciplinary collaboration in campus settings would encourage eventual cross-pollination as the participat- ing students entered the workforce. (Stoner left the EPA in 2014 to be- come the water program director at an environmental education group, the Pisces Foundation.)

In its inaugural year, the RainWorks Challenge received 218 entries and awarded four winners and four hon- orable mentions. Subsequent years have brought an average of 71 partici- pating teams, with awards handed out to four winners annually, and at least one pair of teams recognized with honorable mentions as well. For 2017, first-place winners will re- ceive awards of $2,000 to be divided among student team members, and $3,000 as green infrastructure re- search support for the faculty behind the project. Second-place winners will receive $1,000 for students and $2,000 for their faculty advisers.

Student teams that enter the compe- tition can choose to submit project proposals in either the Demonstra- tion Project category, which seeks feasible, proof-of-concept designs for site-specific improvements to campus green infrastructure, or the Master Plan category, which takes a broader look at campus-wide con- cepts. Those categories have evolved from what started out in 2012 as distinctions between small and large institutions, with additional awards given for Innovative Technology and Creative Video categories (in addi- tion to project boards, participants that year were required to produce an explanatory video with their en- tries; the video requirement returns for the 2017 edition).

The 2013 itera- tion saw a shift in categories from school size to project size, with Site Design (now Demonstration Proj- ect) and Master Plan categories. Within the categories, student work is evaluated on the basis of 100 possible points in 11 subcriteria. Most of the available points are earned for an entry’s innova- tion and value to campus, general resiliency, and per- formance. In addition, each project faces scrutiny of its docu- mentation, quality of graphics, and video presentation; the competition also scores interdisciplinary collabo- ration within each team. To under- score the need for realistic solutions, points are given for likelihood of implementation of the project and its financial viability. How a proposed solution will be maintained is an- other criterion, and projects are also measured in how well each engages its community.

One of the requirements added in the second year of the RainWorks Challenge was that each team had to submit a letter from its campus facili- ties department acknowledging the feasibility of the project. What that allows is for more meaningful con- versations about runoff and retention to happen at the campus-wide level, starting with projects as small as the demonstration gardens, but perhaps ultimately leading to broader imple- mentation of stormwater manage- ment practices that might embody a more holistic approach.

The letters are a way of ensuring that there is buy-in from each cam- pus facilities team so that proposals address actual issues faced by the campus, and, if implemented, can thrive beyond the competition year. “We’ve seen more entries talk about what their facility or campus is fac- ing in terms of stormwater manage- ment requirements,” Piziali says. “We’ve seen them work together to help design for their campus.” Other changes came as the program evolved. “The fifth year, we had com- munity engagement as one of our criteria,” Piziali says. “We’re propos- ing signage and other things to really show folks, if they’re looking at a park that is managing stormwater, how that is happening on site.”

In 2013, the EPA offered an addition- al incentive beyond the scope of the RainWorks Challenge, in the form of two $20,000 grants to realize demon- stration gardens. Based on past suc- cess in the RainWorks Challenge, two schools, Kansas State University and Mississippi State University (MSU), pursued and won these grants, and the resulting demonstration gardens have just been completed. One of these gardens developed out of the landscape architecture program at Kansas State, which has been a frequent participant in the RainWorks Challenge and has won recognition for four of its entries, including an honorable mention in 2012 as runner- up, large institution, for the project 150 Shades of Green, and a first-place win last year for a project called Stronger Quinlan, in the Demonstration Project category.

In 2013, Kansas State students brought home awards for two different projects: One team won first prize in the Site Design category for Prairie Vision: Hale Library’s New Front Porch. A second team’s entry, dubbed Precipitating a Sustainable Sensibility (now simply known as The Meadow) received an honorable mention in the same category. The winning entry comprised 13,260 square feet of site area located along the southern facade of Hale Library, a heavily trafficked destination on cam- pus. Students proposed a palette of site improvements, including a wet meadow planted with native vegeta- tion, a permeable paver plaza, and a cobble runnel, which would trans- form an inefficient, irrigated lawn into a highly visible, self-sustaining green infrastructure amenity.

The team calculated that its wet meadow would retain 100 percent of storm- water from a one-year storm event, totaling 24,000 gallons, and 65 per- cent of stormwater from a 10-year storm event, or approximately 45,900 gallons. Based on the success of the Hale Library project, faculty at Kansas State submitted EPA grant proposals for two demonstration gardens on the university’s Manhattan, Kansas, campus. Jessica Canfield, ASLA, is an assistant professor in Kansas State’s depart- ment of landscape architecture and regional and community planning who has served as an adviser to stu- dents participating in the RainWorks Challenge.

Canfield says that neither of these two demonstration gardens from the grant proposal would solve campus stormwater issues on its own, but together they contribute to the broader ecology of which the campus is part. She says that smaller- scaled interventions such as these reduce the amount of imperme- able surface area that contributes to runoff. “Even though they’re small, postage-stamp-sized demonstration projects, the spirit of them is that we have to treat the problem upstream as much as we can,” Canfield says. “Our students have tried to push their designs to do as much capture and infiltration as possible. That’s really the goal for probably all of the projects we’ve done on campus.” Having the demonstration gar- dens on campus means that Canfield and her fellow faculty members have actual sites to share with their students. The subsequent Kan- sas State RainWorks Challenge proposals have benefited by learning from these demonstration gardens that provide hands-on research opportunities for students in the biology, agriculture, and environmental engineering de- partments as well as the landscape architecture program.

In Canfield’s experience, the mixing of degree spe- cializations in RainWorks Challenge teams, while not required, ensures that the proposals are not only well designed and communicated, but also achieve quantifiable benchmarks across an array of criteria set in the competition brief each year. About 750 miles and a climate zone away, Cory Gallo, ASLA, an associate professor in the MSU Department of Landscape Architecture, says that the RainWorks Challenge has pro- vided his students with a better un- derstanding of the complex details of implementation: “Students get to have this creative yet practical experi- ence of trying to work out intricate design problems and work through the nuts and bolts of stormwater management,” Gallo says. “When students are learning about hydrol- ogy and green infrastructure, and you’re drawing details in class, it’s a lot different to go outside and see something in progress being built and understand the drainage of bioretention soil mixture or an underdrain.”

MSU students took second place in the Site Design category in 2013 for their Union Green entry, which proposed an ambitious overhaul of a 1.3-acre site at the center of the MSU campus. The proposal included a bio- retention basin and a 10,000-gallon cistern, as well as an elevated aque- duct to enable visualization of water movement through the site. Having won Campus RainWorks recognition for Union Green, Gallo approached MSU administration about the fea- sibility of implementation, with the EPA grant in mind. While Union Green ultimately proved too costly and too disruptive to a central campus location, Gallo was able to propose a demonstration garden, a scaled-down project adjacent to the landscape ar- chitecture building.

The demonstration garden is much smaller than the Union Green proposal, at roughly 1,500 square feet, but Gallo says that it still has an outsized impact on the visibility of green infrastructure on campus. This year, the MSU team received an ASLA Honor Award in Student Collaboration for the project, which Gallo partly attributes to input from graphic design students on the team. “Our students worked with them to communicate technical information of how water is collected, conveyed, and moved,” he says. “That level of graphic communication made the difference between a rain garden and a demonstration site.” As for the future of the RainWorks Challenge, the EPA seems to be cau- tiously optimistic. “Every spring when we announce our winners,” Piziali says, “we think hard about whether the program is still adding, or where we can focus next year to produce a better challenge.” Next year will de- pend upon the EPA’s final budget, according to a spokeswoman from the agency’s office of public affairs, so perhaps the biggest challenge will be persuading the current adminis- tration that programs such as these are still vital to keeping the country’s water quality standards afloat.

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