Sustainability at the University of Maryland


The campus has several notable water features and ponds that receive stormwater runoff from the campus land, rooftops, roads, and parking lots. Along the northeastern border of the campus flows the Paint Branch, which provides a natural riparian border between the university and the Town of College Park. Campus Creek, an important environmental feature of the campus, is completely contained on the campus from its headwaters on the UM Golf Course to its confluence with the Paint Branch near the University View apartment complex. Another major drainage basin for the campus is the Northeast Branch, and a small amount of university property drains to the Northwest Branch.

All of these tributaries are part of the Anacostia watershed a priority watershed for restoration within the broader watershed of the Chesapeake Bay. The University resides in the heart of the Anacostia basin, and as the university became more urbanized, so too has the land surrounding the Anacostia River. In a nod to regional environmental cooperation, the university in 2002 became a member of the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership (AWRP), which is a coalition that is focused on cleaning and restoring the Anacostia watershed. Primarily comprised of federal, Maryland, and District of Columbia agencies, the AWRP also includes several nongovernmental organizations and businesses in the region. Efforts are underway to better manage runoff of water from impervious surfaces throughout campus. In a 2007 report, campus drainage was evaluated comprehensively to identify non-point source storm water pollution and stream degradation. The campus was categorized into 23 sub watersheds delineating storm water drainage systems. Knowing these patterns creates better opportunities for designing, funding, and implementing future water quality improvement projects.

At a Glance:

Past Initiatives:

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Knight Hall Cistern

The Knight Hall building site is estimated to reduce stormwater runoff by 27 percent compared with pre-construction conditions. This reduction was achieved by converting an impervious parking lot into a green building surrounded by green space and capturing the rain that falls on the site in a large cistern buried under the courtyard. This system collects rainwater from roof drains, channels the water through a high capacity filter in the courtyard, and stores it in an underground cistern. A drip irrigation system detects the amount of moisture in the soil so that plants are only watered as needed. When the irrigation system calls for water, pumps send water from the cistern through the irrigation system for distribution on-site. The cistern is sized to handle the average rainfall for the month of July (worst-case demand scenario). In addition to reducing the campus's use of potable water for irrigation, the quality of the stormwater runoff is also improved by filtering the water collected from the roof through the mechanical filtering provided by the capture system and the natural filtering provided by plants and other organisms in the soil.

Low Impact Development (LID) Projects

Improvements in dealing with storm water can be seen in a variety of decentralized Low Impact Development (LID) projects, like those visible at the south east edge of the Comcast parking lots, which catch and filter contaminated runoff from these paved surfaces before the runoff reaches Campus Creek. Other areas on campus that serve to filter or catch storm water include a large retrofit bioretention pond behind the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and a sand filter on the south lawn of the President’s residence. Also, the women's field hockey field filters, slows, and reduces the temperature of storm water runoff before it reaches the Paint Branch. Campus Creek, which is a high priority for restoration, includes four LID projects within the stream buffer of the creek. Recently, the university installed interpretive signage in these areas to help expand students’ appreciation of these sites and their role in stormwater management. At the eastern border of Lot 4i, the university is in partnership with the Maryland State Highway Administration to install a bioretention facility that will treat uncontrolled runoff from the parking area before it reaches the Paint Branch. Throughout the campus new plantings and expansion of the riparian buffer are planned.

A number of Low Impact Development (LID) projects were completed 2008-2010 to improve permeability, capture and reuse rainwater, and reduce the damaging effects of storm water runoff. At Symons Hall, permeable pavers were installed to promote groundwater recharge, and a rain garden was planted to capture and treat runoff. At the East end of parking lot 4i, a sand filter was designed and constructed; the filter captures and slows runoff, and prevents parking lot pollutant runoff from entering Paint Branch Creek. Between Math and Glenn L. Martin Hall, a small courtyard was constructed out of permeable pavers which allows for groundwater infiltration and helps to provide water to the surrounding trees. Finally the parking lot between Architecture and Preinkert was removed as part of Phase III of the Mayer Mall construction which will slow storm water runoff.

Green Roof on Cumberland Hall

The Department of Residential Facilities installed a green roof system on Cumberland Hall in 2008. The green roof covers approximately 65 percent roof surface with approximately 6,000 square feet of plantings. The Cumberland Hall roof is characterized as an "extensive" green roof meaning the depth of the growing media is between 3" - 6" and the plants are low growing, low maintenance, and drought resistant. Extensive green roof systems are not designed to accommodate foot traffic.

As with the storm water irrigation system installation at Washington Quad, this project is designed, in part, to provide Residential Facilities and other interested campus departments with a large scale installation upon which possible future green/garden roof retro-fit installations can be better budgeted, planned, executed and maintained. Read more.

Washington Quad

The Washington Quad is the outdoor area within the South Hill Community surrounded by Baltimore, Prince George’s, Harford, Frederick, Washington, and Howard residence halls. In the spring of 2008, the Quad underwent a dramatic renovation. It was transformed into a park-like setting for residents’ relaxation and enjoyment. As part of this transformation, the Washington Quad now features the campus’ first stormwater irrigation system. A 10,000 gallon cistern receives stormwater from the roofs of the surrounding buildings. A computer controlled system then directs the water to a drip irrigation system to the plant beds nearby. The system eliminates the need to water all the beds during warm periods and thereby also reduces costs. In addition to collecting stormwater, the project included other sustainable efforts such as:

  • replacing approximately 30 percent of concrete and asphalt with grass and other plantings;
  • increasing the number of replacement trees on the finished site by 33 percent, in addition to adding hundreds of new foundation plants and shrubs;
  • adding recycling and trash containers on the site;
  • salvaging and re-using some existing sidewalk brick;
  • recycling concrete, asphalt, and other construction waste (instead of dumping into local landfills);
  • planning for the mulch for new plant beds to come from the composted food waste taken from campus dining facilities; and
  • adding 12 new bicycle racks.

Read more.

Paint Branch Restoration

Over the years, the Paint Branch has exhibited many problems typically associated with urban streams. In June, 2006, flash floods from upstream storm water flows caused severe erosion of the Paint Branch banks and partially undermined the foundations of the campus pedestrian bridge located west of University View Apartments at U.S. Route 1. The embankments were severely scoured and a number of large, mature trees were felled. The situation required emergency temporary corrective action, including bank stabilization, as well as commissioning an assessment by professional engineers. Representatives of the Paint Branch Watershed Stakeholders group, including UM Facilities Management, Maryland Natural Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD-DNR), the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE), and University View Partnership, LLC conducted further assessments and deliberated appropriate corrective action.

The University of Maryland and University View, LLC have shared resources to implement restoration of approximately 350 linear feet of the Paint Branch at the confluence with Campus Creek, within University and M-NCPPC property. Restoration work was substantially completed by Openshaw Excavations, the beginning of February 2007.

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