Media contact: Dr. Bill Hunt, assistant professor and North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University, 919.515.6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Spooky BMP no trick; treats water to make it clean
GRAHAM, N.C. -- Halloween's getting closer, and an Alamance County school is ready. That is, they're ready if the spooky holiday ushers in a rainy season this year.
That's because at Graham High School, the Trollinger Road home of the Red Devils, North Carolina State University researchers are proving that science can help boost school spirit, while helping keep our drinking water clean.
How do science and spookiness mix?
You'd know if you could get an aerial view of the high school's clean-water bioretention area, a stormwater control type known as a best management practice: it's shaped like the school mascot's “demon” face.
When Graham High officials asked Dr. Bill Hunt, an assistant professor and North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist in NC State's Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, for an innovative way to catch and clean up petroleum residue, lawn chemicals and soil draining from the school parking lot, Hunt turned to designer Ryan Smith.
Smith, a Cooperative Extension research associate in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, designed and helped install a bioretention area on the downhill side of one of the school's parking lots: a water catchment and filtration best management practice.
And keeping GHS's fiendish mascot in mind, he designed the research and demonstration BMP in the shape of a cartoon-like devil's head. The project was funded by grants from the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments and the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, while the Alamance County Schools and City of Graham helped with construction.
The BMP works like this: polluted water from the parking lot flows into a central area, the forebay – a pre-filtration holding area – then splits equally into two “eyes” – other holding areas. Water flows around the eyes' “irises.”
“If it rains a ton, the eyes will cry, the thing will fill up and tears will come out the tear ducts,” Hunt says. But most importantly, the filtered water then flows to a storm drain, which drains to the Haw River, then to Jordan Lake.
“Early indications show the bioretention areas are both doing a very good job of removing nitrogen and a good job of removing phosphorus,” Hunt says. Both nutrients, used in agriculture and lawn care, can pollute drinking water.
There's a practical reason for the demonstration and research BMP in Jordan Lake's upper watershed.
Says Mitch Woodward, a Wake County Cooperative Extension area specialized agriculture agent who spent many hours helping install the BMP, “Water quality regulations are coming soon to Jordan Lake, just as they did earlier to the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins.”
And, he says, “Nitrogen and phosphorus will both be of interest in the Jordan Lake watershed, and this study looks at both of them.”
The small, but critical project is a groundbreaker in another way. “This is the first grassed bioretention area ever studied in the Americas,” Hunt notes.
Such areas previously have been required to be planted with trees, shrubs and overlain with mulch, he says. “Sometimes the landscape doesn't call for that; aesthetics dictate a grassed area. Because no study had been done on grassed cells, this and other states had been very reluctant to permit the use of grassed areas, and if they did, they weren't given the same pollutant removal credit as their tree, shrub or grass mulch counterparts.”
The Graham site also is a test for an innovative BMP soil medium. “This is the first time we've used an expanded slate medium in a bioretention area,” Hunt says. “Previously, it had been used just for plants in boxes or garden beds. The slate's relatively high cation count means it collects more pollutants than traditional media.” A cation is a positively charged ion, or atom, with fewer electrons than protons.
Research projects such as the “demon” BMP are critical, says Woodward, who like Hunt, was active in recent Neuse River basin cleanup research and projects.
“If pollution sources are not managed properly in the Jordan Lake watershed in coming decades, the lake won't support its designated uses as a major regional drinking agent water supply, recreational resource and aquatic habitat,” he says.
That could mean polluted drinking water, no jet skis and no fish.
And wouldn't that be another devil of a fix?
- Art Latham, 919.513.3117 or email@example.com -
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