5/5/15

U of I students conquer Campus RainWorks Challenge

Last month, the U.S. EPA awarded University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign first and second prizes in their Campus RainWorks Challenge. The national competition recognizes student-led green infrastructure plans and projects to manage stormwater on campus. Eliana Brown, has been following the UIUC plan from the beginning

The first time I heard that landscapes could be designed to improve water quality, it was a revelation. I knew about the highly-effective bioremediation treatment cells at industrial facilities. But, the fact that the landscapes we walk through in our daily lives could have that power was exciting. What came to be known as “green infrastructure” is an elegant blend of landscape architecture and civil engineering that places of higher learning should embrace.

The EPA Office of Water seems to agree. Since 2012, it has invited students to design innovative green infrastructure projects to show how managing rainfall in a more natural way can benefit their community and the environment. 

Because I’m fond of the small creek running through the University of Illinois’ engineering college—known as Boneyard Creek—I have always wanted to see an entry from my campus. This year, I got my wish and then some. U.S. EPA announced on Earth Day that “Reverse Engineering: The Engineering Campus as Catalyst,” a master plan designed by a multi-disciplinary team of UIUC students under the direction of landscape architecture instructor Tawab Hlimi earned 2nd place. According to the EPA, 64 teams from 23 states submitted entries.

The plan focuses on improving water quality in Boneyard Creek by installing green streets, roof catchments, bioswales, and rain gardens in the surrounding area. Native plants and pollinator habitats are also proposed to boost the creeks' ecological role and create more recreational opportunities. 

Building off this success, Hlimi and teaching assistant Faezeh Ashtiani showed the plan along with the work of their spring semester students in an exhibit called “Reverse Engineering: Reconfiguring the Urban-Riparian Interface” at [CO] [LAB] in downtown Urbana. Students expanded on the Campus RainWorks plan upstream and in other parts of campus, including three visions of Dorner Driver Retention Pond that add water quality filtration to the existing water storage function.

Looking to the future, Hlimi has applied for a Student Sustainability Committee grant to build a multi-purpose demonstration rain garden. 

Learn more about both award-winning University of Illinois plans on the EPA website. And check out our Lawn to Lake program for tips on how you can protect water quality and foster healthy landscapes.  

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