UofL is taking a variety of steps to reduce flooding and divert stormwater from the sewers by promoting infiltration and recharging aquifers.
Video Tour of UofL storm water projects.
The massive, unprecedented flood which hit UofL on August 4, 2009, causing $20.9 million in damages, was a wake-up call for many. It hinted at the increasing intensity of storms to come as our greenhouse gas emissions continue to warm the planet and alter the climate we once knew. But it also helped motivate us to take action to both mitigate our climate impact, and to adapt to a changing climate by getting serious about sustainable stormwater management. Further flooding on May 29, 2012 not only validated our concerns, but demonstrated that our work since 2009 to enhance stormwater infiltration has begun to pay off. Read more.
UofL is working with Louisville's Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) on a variety of "green infrastructure" projects to help keep runoff out of the combined sewer system. In the past, every raindrop that hit UofL's rooftops (over 2.2 million square feet on Belknap campus alone!) and pavements was channeled into the same sewer system as handles our waste water which truly needs to be treated. But, as VP for Business Affairs, Larry Owsley puts it, "When you have that much rain in that short a time, the sewers — which are large sewers — just back up and there's no place for the water to go." Even if the sewers can handle stormwater from UofL, the treatment plants at the end of the pipe often can't, leading to dangerous releases of untreated sewage into the Ohio River - a threat to human health and ecological integrity.
UofL is now pursuing means of lessening the risk of flood and reducing our campus' contribution to the problem by diverting stormwater from the sewer system all together through infiltration and rainwater harvesting projects, or by slowing its release through water absorbing changes to our campus landscape. Around campus, we are beginning to disconnect downspouts, install vegetated green roofs, and build rain gardens and bioswales to facilitate groundwater recharge through infiltration.
Stormwater Management Projects
UofL is making several changes to campus landscaping, parking lots and rooftops, with the help of $1.5 million in cost-sharing from MSD. We think that this significant investment today could essentially pay for itself by helping prevent millions of dollars in future flood damage. We are also hoping the projects at UofL will serve as an example for similar projects across the city on both public and private property. MSD's investment in Belknap campus stormwater projects is part of a $850 million agreement that MSD made in federal court with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators in 2005 to reduce the incidence of combined sewer overflows into waterways during storm events.
Projects at UofL include:
- Rain Barrels: Rainwater harvesting from the roof of the Cultural Center for irrigation use in the campus Garden Commons.
- Bioswales: Vegetated bioswales
are stormwater runoff conveyance systems which
provide a natural alternative to sewers. They help reduce threats to water quality by
the first flush of storm water runoff and filtering
the large storm flows they convey. UofL will utilize existing natural drainage
swales whenever possible, and enhance them with native plants to encourage infiltration and filter out contaminants. A bioswale is designed to handle stormwater from the roof of the new College of Business expansion.
- Rain Gardens: Areas of campus will be redesigned to channel runoff into shallow depressions which will be replanted with deep-rooted, native species to facilitate infiltration, converting a waste problem (runoff) into a beneficial good (groundwater). Pending funding, rain gardens are planned for the Law School courtyard and for the area between the Duthie Center for Engineering and the J.B. Speed building.
- Pervious Pavements: UofL is moving away from the traditional method of creating hardscapes which prevent infiltration and channel stormwater to sewers. Instead, we are creating lots, roadways, plazas, and sidewalks by either pouring pervious pavement, as is being used in the Dental School renovation, or laying permeable pavers, as have been used in the Red Barn plaza, University Tower Apartments plaza, and Grawemeyer Oval loop renovations, and the Garden Commons community gathering space.
- Green Roofs: Vegetated roofs are not only beautiful, but they help moderate temperatures to reduce
the urban heat island effect and building energy demands for cooling and
heating, while reducing storm water runoff, generating oxygen, and
providing wildlife habitat in the urban landscape. They can also be
designed as green spaces for urban dwellers looking to escape the
concrete jungle. UofL has begun installing green roofs to help demonstrate their many benefits, with projects including:
- 1. A green roof is sprouting on the first building at the new Nucleus Innovation Park-Market Street,
a subsidiary of the UofL Foundation. The eight-story,
200,000-square-foot, LEED building is expected to open in May 2013 and
Bernheim Forest nursery specialists are advising building contractors
how to design and maintain the roof, which will feature Kentucky native
- Infiltration Basins: Many traditional-looking parking lots, plazas and lawns across campus now conceal advanced stormwater infiltration systems. Instead of draining to the combined sewer system, these areas drain to large underground infiltration basins capable of handling huge rainfall events and the water from surrounding rooftops. These designs were included in the following projects (with the square footage of impervious surface area mitigated in parentheses):
- Ekstrom Library western lawn - completed in fall 2012, this infiltration system captures roof run-off from surrounding buildings (108,000 sf)
- The UTA/Ville Grill plaza renovated in 2011. (14,550 sf)
- The Red Barn plaza renovated in 2011. (4,120 sf)
- The Grawemeyer Oval lawn renovated in 2011. (76,368 sf)
- The College of Business parking lot renovated in 2011. (86,052 sf)
- The parking lot behind Bettie Johnson Hall, the Urban Studies Institute, and University
Planning, Design & Construction renovated in 2011. (67,629 sf)
- The Speed Museum expansion project has been designed with a large infiltration basin beneath the plaza which will be able to handle roof drainage from Strickler Hall, Life Sciences, and the College of Business. (phase 1 = 94,304 sf)
2. The new M. Krista Loyd Sky Garden atop the College of Business Equine Addition, a 942-square-foot area of pre-vegetated sedum mat with 4”-6” fill material installed in 2012;
3. An accessible roof patio planted with sedums and a vegetable garden atop the Early Learning Center at Family Scholar House, at the northwest corner of Belknap Campus; and
4. A huge vegetated roof installed atop the new Cardinal Towne affiliated student housing and retail facility which opened on Cardinal Blvd. in 2011.
Look for these Green Infrastructure Installations at UofL planned for 2013-14:
- Infiltration System for runoff from the Eastern Parkway Overpass at Floyd & Brook Streets (59,136 sf) - As of November 2013, the east half of the Eastern Parkway overpass project is nearly completed. The west half of the overpass project may be impossible due to the geology. The underlying soils are being re-evaluated, but while excavating we cannot seem get beyond the clay, greatly limiting infiltration.
- Speed School of Engineering Parking Lot (151,592 sf) - The Foundation with their South Brook Street work is looking into
development of large single basin which would include the Speed School
lot runoff as well.
- New Student Recreation Center (317,115 sf) - Completed and is larger than planned, with a connected load that now
includes most of the land surrounding Billy Minardi Hall!