The Ursinus Naturalized Stormwater Basin - History

The Ursinus College naturalized stormwater basin has transformed the landscape of Ursinus College. Throughout the coming years, the wetland will become an integral part of the daily academic and extra-curricular life at Ursinus. This area in the north-west corner of campus will become one of the premier tranquil, pristine, natural settings in the Collegeville area. Academic programs will begin to prosper by using the area for research and inspiration, while the community will benefit from outdoor workshops. The wetland promises to enhance everyone’s knowledge that comes into contact
with it.

The basin started out as a sedimentation basin that was created during the construction of new buildings on campus. Erony Whyte '05, an Environmental Studies alumna, began researching the sedimentation basin as a Summer Fellows project in 2004. From her research, she proposed the creation of an extended detention wet pond.

An extended detention basin is a basin that releases water more slowly than a regular pond whether the pond is dry or wet. A wet pond maintains a permanent pool of water at a certain level; compared to a dry pond which is a grass basin that collects storm water and gradually drains it. Erony’s final proposal of an extended detention wet pond was due to the fact that extended detention wet ponds filter pollutants much better than other basins. Extended detention dry ponds provide sediment removal and some pollutant removal during storms. Regular detention wet ponds provide sediment removal and inexpensive, low-maintenance, and effective wastewater treatment capable of treating high pollutant loads and fluctuating hydrology. Extended detention wet ponds are more effective than regular detention wet ponds in providing these functions. They offer all of these with additional benefits of aesthetics, habitat creation, recreation and education.

The site of the naturalized stormwater basin is a three-acre detention basin, constructed in 2001 on the north-west end of campus. Stormwater from a 38-acre watershed culminates in the three-acre basin. This watershed includes the parking lot located on the west side of campus, the College’s performing arts center, baseball field, field hockey field, tennis courts, a large dorm complex, and the gymnasium complex. The original basin was designed for the collection of sediments from land exposed due to construction. A 1987 statute entitled National Pollution Discharged Elimination System, an amendment to the Clean Water Act, required industrial and electrical facilities, as well as construction sites greater than five acres to regulate and monitor effluent limits in a collection basin. The College’s plan was to transform this sedimentation basin into a wet pond upon the completion of construction.

Erony’s proposal was to retrofit the existing basin into an extended detention wet pond. Her goals were as follows:
Maintain basin’s utilitarian function of retaining 100-year storm levels Use native plants that are beneficial to water quality and wildlife Create an aesthetically pleasing open space Foster educational and recreational opportunities that support campus Master Plan Reduce maintenance requirements for Physical Plant Provide cost-effective design
The underlying goal of the extended detention wet pond was to filter out pollutants collected in storm water runoff, including oil, grease, and heavy metals from developed surfaces and excess nitrogen, phosphorous (e.g. from fertilizers, sediment), and pesticides from grass surfaces. The west end parking lot that houses the majority of the students’ vehicles is a major contributor of pollutants in the College’s storm water run-off.

The extended detention wet pond would serve as the filter by slowing the flow of flood water, desynchronizing the peak contributions of tributary streams, and reducing peak flows on main rivers. The newly created wet ecosystem would advance the water quality of the Perkiomen Creek, into which the College’s storm water eventually drains. The Perkiomen Creek is a tributary of the Schuylkill River and has a 372 square mile watershed. The Schuylkill feeds into the Delaware River and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.

The extended detention wet pond will filter pollutants by having the vegetation remove pollutants through physical and biochemical processes. This filtered water will be drained into the Perkiomen Creek, approximately one-thousand and three-hundred feet from the drainage basin. The best filtration is conducted with native species to the ecosystem. Native plants are best adapted to growing and breaking down pollutants in an ecosystem and thereafter will attract native wildlife.

Plants that are used to treat water pollution are called phytotechnology. A wet pond is a specific phytotechnology that provides multiple benefits for the storm water, wildlife, and the people that live near the pond. Working with environmental engineering firm F.X. Browne, Erony created blueprints of the proposed wet pond, as well as a planting plan.

The final proposal of the extended naturalized stormwater basin included three zones. Zone one will only come into contact with storm water when levels are high; zone two will be partially submerged or in high levels completely inundated with water; the final zone is relatively deep, at the lowest elevations. These three zones are crucial for ecosystem construction and viability. Other zones within the pond and upland areas will vegetate naturally with hardy volunteer species. The extended detention wet pond created by Erony Whyte helped to create a natural setting on campus, while continuing the college’s master plan to preserve and protect natural beauty on campus. The proposal and research conducted by Whyte in 2004 and 2005 established a foundation for the further development of the wetland on Ursinus College. In 2005, Erony was awarded a storm water management best practices award by the Schuylkill Action Network for her design of the basin.

In 2006, after Erony Whyte graduated from Ursinus, Environmental Studies Major Sara Schubel '07 became director of the basin project. Working with the College’s Facilities Services Office and F.X. Browne, Sara oversaw various feasibility studies based on Erony’s detailed report and planning documents. Among the tests that Sara oversaw was a permeability study to determine if an in-ground liner was needed for the pond. The results of this study indicated that a clay liner would in fact be needed in order to maintain the depth of water level necessary for the naturalized basin.

To simplify the project (and reduce construction expenses), Sara and the Ursinus team worked closely with F.X. Browne to develop a more cost-effective, but just as ecologically advantageous plan. The result was a proposed constructed wetland, which would not require a liner due to its lower water depth requirements. The wetland proposal fit the contours laid out in the original design, and would allow for the filtration of pollutants by establishing a wet ecosystem and a gradual drainage process, very similar to the original extended detention wet pond design. The only difference between the wetland and the pond would be a steady drainage flow from the basin. Because of a steady drainage flow, no liner would be needed and water levels would not be as high.

In the fall of 2006, an excavating firm visited the basin site and regarded the basin in preparation for planting the wetland. Woody shrubs were planted throughout the wetland following the construction. Further planting of lower-elevation plants has occurred in the spring and summer of 2007.

In the spring of 2007, students in the Environmental Studies Senior Seminar joined Sara Schubel in the planning process of the wetland. Seminar’s Wetland Planning Team consisted of Environmental Studies majors Steve Ordog, Rachael Greenly, Zak Arnhold, and Joe Joyce. Together, they developed a master plan of the wetland, delineating strategies for integrating the wetland with the Ursinus academic program. This included an ecological monitoring plan for collecting data on level of pollutants entering the wetland, leaving the wetland, and draining into the Perkiomen Creek. The ecological monitoring plan will be used to promote research in courses in several disciplines, including Environmental Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, and Geology. The master plan also establishes a strategy for community involvement. The community consists of Ursinus College’s student, staff, and faculty, surrounding school districts, civic organizations, and the Collegeville community, and may include community workshops and the future infrastructure of the basin.

The naturalized stormwater basin is a project has taken many years to complete, several plantings, and dedication by students, faculty and staff. The basin is a natural, harmonious space on campus enhances the life of every student, faculty, staff, and community member that comes in contact with it.  

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