Feature Spotlight: Sustainable Stormwater Solutions

Posted: August 4, 2015

Helping Homeowners Find Sustainable Stormwater Solutions
One of our young workshop attendees helping at our volunteer planting day on May 2nd.

One of our young workshop attendees helping at our volunteer planting day on May 2nd.

On a bright sunny day in early May, over thirty members of the State College community—including elementary school children and their parents, Borough staff, and Penn State students and faculty—joined together to plant a rain garden at Easterly Parkway Elementary School.

“Families with little kids carrying their trowels just kept walking down the hill to help plant the rain garden,” recalled Erin Hill, a May 2015 graduate of the Environmental Resource Management (ERM) program and a former Agriculture and Environment Center (AEC) intern who helped plan the event. “It was the perfect way to end our Penn State experience.” Erin worked with fellow graduating senior and AEC intern Kaitlyn Benson on the project.

The planting was the capstone to a semester long project completed in partnership with the Borough of State College and the Penn State Sustainability Institute. Through its “Sustainable Communities Collaborative,” the institute helps link Penn State faculty and students with the Borough to address community sustainability issues thorough engaged scholarship problem solving. The institute and the AEC began talking about opportunities for a project related to stormwater in summer 2014.

Easterly Stormwater Workshop

“We were lucky enough to receive a Reinvention Fund grant from the Sustainability Institute to launch our Sustainable Watershed Program at Penn State,” explained AEC Director Matt Royer. “Through this program we are helping to facilitate connections with local community partners interested in protecting and restoring our local watersheds. Working with State College Borough on stormwater issues was a no brainer.”

Erin and Kaitlyn had experience developing stormwater workshops for homeowners. In fall 2014, together with fellow intern Bill Wall, they used the Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater, a Little Conestoga Partnership publication that the AEC helped to develop, to deliver a workshop at the Centre County Foundation Building in Ferguson Township. 

Homeowner's Guide to Stormwater

This time partnering with the Borough and Easterly Parkway Elementary School, Erin and Kaitlyn again planned, promoted and held a workshop in April 2015 at the elementary school. The workshop provided participants with hands-on experience in addressing stormwater runoff on their own properties. Erin and Kaitlyn helped homeowners map out the Easterly Parkway site, calculate the gallons of water runoff, and propose a solution through implementation of rain gardens, native meadows and other practices.

Working with staff from the Elementary School and the Borough, they also selected a site on the school property for a demonstration rain garden and designed the rain garden. Borough staff provided construction assistance and design oversight. AEC staff and volunteers selected and obtained the plants and shaped the rain garden.  And on that sunny day in May, the community planted it.

The project was a true multi-disciplinary affair. Along with the AEC, Borough, and Sustainability Institute, it involved students and faculty from the Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Visual Arts, and Penn State Law.

The AEC continues to expand its programming, providing more opportunities for students to get real world experience in helping local municipalities and residents solve stormwater problems.

In June, a second workshop organized by new AEC summer intern Emily Newman was hosted by Harris Township in Boalsburg. Under Emily’s tutelage, participants developed a plan to transform the Boalsburg Heritage Museum into a showcase of backyard stormwater management techniques. Portions of the morning were held outside in a pouring rain storm. Despite the several inches of rain received that day, there was a committed crowd.

“No better day to host a stormwater workshop than a day like this,” Dennis Hameister, Harris Township Supervisor, said with a chuckle. 

Check out the video below to learn more about the process behind the Easterly rain garden planting!