Across the United States, education institutions are building classrooms, research facilities, stadiums and residence halls. These facilities have one thing in common—impervious surfaces. Hard surfaces such as rooftops and pavement prevent rainfall from soaking into the ground and force water to flow quickly overland into local waterways. 

As schools look to expand, stormwater management master planning can help institutions cost-effectively adhere to complex regulations while harnessing stormwater to improve aesthetics, reduce water consumption, enhance pedestrian safety, and lower landscape maintenance costs.

The Science of Stormwater 

Scientists’ understanding of the effects of urban stormwater runoff has changed significantly over the past 30 to 40 years. Once thought to be primarily a source of flooding, scientists now recognize that stormwater runoff harms waterways by carrying with it a battery of pollutants. The physical force of increased stormwater runoff also erodes stream channels, disrupting habitats and causing infrastructure damage.  

Along with the progress in stormwater science, stormwater regulation, once focused on flood avoidance, also has evolved. Regulations now incorporate a range of requirements designed to remove pollutants, slow down stormwater, and, most of all, soak it into the ground. These requirements can be met through the use of sustainaable stormwater practices such as green roofs, rain gardens, and porous pavement. Although new regulations have proved challenging for institutions, they also have changed how stormwater is viewed: from a waste product to a resource. 

The benefits of this new stormwater management paradigm can be seen on school and college campuses. Cisterns can be used to capture rainwater, and schools do not have to use costly potable water for non-potable uses such as landscape irrigation. Rain gardens can double as low-maintenance landscape features; larger features, such as constructed wetlands, can provide wildlife habitat and passive recreation benefits. Adopting new stormwater practices also can ease persistent erosion or flooding problems. In other locations, rain gardens can double as traffic calming features or frame pedestrian pathways to discourage shortcuts through quads.