Small gardens could make big impact on campus

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A path leads thoughout the meadow north of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art on Sept. 22, 2015 in the KSU campus. This is one of the areas that will be studied by a team of four collegues regarding storm management. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

Record rainfall drenched Manhattan and K-State campus this past year. Water gushed into the basements of campus buildings, streets mimicked rivers and Campus Creek overflowed.

Three faculty members from Landscape Architecture and Regional and Community Planning and one from biological and agricultural engineering could have the key to reduce extreme flooding in the future. This key is a grant awarded to K-State by the Environmental Protection Agency that will be used to focus on storm water management on campus.

The $20,000 EPA grant will enable researchers to study two areas of green infrastructure on campus, according to Lee Skabelund, associate professor of landscape architecture. The first location is the meadow located by the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, and the second is a rain garden located by the courtyard of the International Student Center.

A rain garden is a small ditch filled with plants and grasses, according to raingardennetwork.com. These specific plants have deep roots that enable them to capture running water and prevent it from entering the sewer system.

“The intent is to use them as a demonstration and show what types of landscapes are needed to help reduce flooding,” Jessica Canfield, assistant professor of landscape architecture and one of the collaborators on the project, said.

According to Skabelund, the rain garden by the International Student Center was established in 2006, and a group of faculty, students, staff and professionals planned the idea. Skabelund said she designed the landscape and the team was awarded a $5,000 grant to help build the garden.

“The KSU-ISC rain garden has created tremendous excitement on campus about the prospect for retrofitting poorly-designed and water- and energy-intensive buildings and landscapes, and creating a more sustainable campus environment,” Skabelund said.

Katie Kingery-Page, associate professor of landscape architecture, helped develop the Beach Museum’s meadow in 2011. Kingery-Page said the meadow was built with the aid of a $7,000 donation from a private donor. The original purpose of the landscape was to showcase native plant species as a sustainable option to cut water use and harbor pollinator insects. Later, they realized that the landscape also can serve as infrastructure for storm water management.

Both Canfield and collaborator Stacy Hutchinson, professor of biological and agricultural engineering, said they hope the intended results of these two areas could bring additional green infrastructure sites to campus.

“It is really based on where the campus wants to go,” Hutchinson said. “(The sites) are fit into the current system in a way that will mesh and they also will extend the capacity of the natural landscape in a way that will be more effective with storm water management.”

Canfield said the two sites alone can’t significantly reduce the flooding, but the data could show benefits of adding more gardens with native plants in contrast to traditional and manicured lawns.

Beginning in the spring, these locations will serve as living laboratories to collect data. The team will record the diversity of plants per site, especially the native species, assess the insect population, as well as test runoff and infiltration of the landscape following significant rainfall.

“It would be great if there were other places on campus to incorporate more (rain gardens),” Canfield said.

Canfield and Hutchinson said they also intend to use the gardens as teaching tools. Although there are no students officially on the research team, many classes will play a role in managing the sites.

“It’s a tool for students to learn about how to design and implement these landscapes,” Canfield said. “So, when they go off into their professional practices and careers, they’ll have knowledge about these sorts of things.”

Hutchinson said she wants her students to see the engineering functions of green infrastructure and how it adds to ecological services.

“If you look at the number of classes we are going to integrate to collect data and being part of the site, I think it is going to have a big impact on a lot of people,” Hutchinson said. “I hope we start to get people to view the landscape differently and understand the capacity of the landscape and those ecosystem services we rely on, but don’t know it.”

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