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Office of Sustainability planning and planting to reduce campus flooding

bioswales

This bioswale is located next to Griffin Hall.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Office of Sustainability is working on natural ways to keep the university’s soil intact and reduce flooding from stormwater.

Their most recent project involved planting over 3,000 seeds from native prairie grass plants around the coulee, a small man-made ravine in the ground for draining water, near Bourgeois park.

According to Director of the Office of Sustainability Gretchen Vanicor, they plan on covering about 4.2 acres between both sides of the coulee to stabilize the soil in the area, as some spots are so eroded they are “big enough to lose a truck in.”

The most recent project by Bourgeois Park is only the latest of Sustainability’s efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and university mowing.

In 2016 they planted a group of native irises and sages by V.L. Wharton Hall to form a bioswale, or a collection of plants in a natural divet in the ground that take in stormwater, hold soil together and reduce flooding in an area. A second bioswale between James R. Oliver Hall and Madison Hall followed a year later.

Many of Sustainability’s projects are pulled off with the help of volunteers. Student volunteer groups like Americorps or the SOUL Camp mentors have helped by planting seeds, removing weeds or re-mulching certain areas.

“They take physical work because we’re doing it the right way,” Vanicor said. “If we just mowed over it they would take a lot less time obviously, but we are saving some mowing time, so there are some trade-offs here.”

Both the prairie grass plantings and the bioswales are part of the Green Infrastructure Masterplan.

Students, faculty and staff composed the plan and submitted it to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their Campus Rainworks Challenge, in which universities across the country submitted green infrastructure plans for their campuses. Out of the 67 universities that submitted, UL Lafayette placed first in the master plan category.

Vanicor stressed how important it was that multiple people from different campus backgrounds worked in developing this plan.

“We want people from every different college working together to solve these problems because that’s what it’s going to take,” Vanicor said.

“Because if we’re just doing it, but students don’t know that we’re doing it and don’t know how we’re doing it, then it’s less likely that you are going to graduate from here and implement those same solutions when you go on to be the owner of a business of the principal of a school system,” Vanicor continued.

The Office of Sustainability’s next project, also detailed in the masterplan, will be installing rain gardens around the corner of Hebrard Boulevard and East Saint Mary Boulevard. Similar to the bioswales, these rain gardens will be planted in the small green strips between the sidewalks and the street.

James Foret, a professor in the college of geosciences who is helping Sustainability with the projects, discussed why he found the rain gardens beneficial to UL Lafayette’s campus.

“We have plans to take a lot of water that’s already in the quad, and keep it in small retention areas,” Foret said, “and deal with it that way rather than force it on the storm drain, which then forces that water on the coulee, which then forces that water in the river, and we all live downstream somewhere; it backs up and it stays longer than it should.”

Foret went on to discuss how most of UL Lafayette was built before modern drainage codes.

He described how he felt like people would rather get water off their property as quickly as possible, i.e. with concrete and retention ponds, which is exactly what leads to buildup and flash flooding on campus.

“Really the truth is we should all be dealing with our rainwater,” Foret said. “And so the university, in my opinion, should be leading and not following, so they’re going in and they’re reversing some of the mistakes they made in the past.”

Foret added that he felt some people might worry about potential animals hiding in the new green areas, but that will not be the case.

Those involved with the Office of Sustainability aren’t the only people working to make UL Lafayette a greener campus.

Juanita Catt Evans, a part-time English instructor, is currently working with English professor Elana Laurel Ryan, Ph.D., to try and create a green space on campus. The goal of the greenspace is to fill it with plants indigenous peoples used and educate students on what their purpose was.

“So often people think about American culture as after America became labeled America, but there were people here before,” Evans explained. “They didn’t have science the way we have it, but they did have a logic and kind of a scientific idea in ‘We figured out that this plant, if you make tea from it, helps your throat feel better.’”

The idea for a green space began as a class assignment for Evans’ indigenous literature class with Ryan, and upon discussing it over the summer the project transformed into a graduate assistant position.

Evans said they do not have a space yet, but plan to meet with Vanicor the week after fall break and discuss the possibility of joining forces and working together to bring this garden to UL Lafayette.

Evans later added she would be happy with whatever land they would allot the project, but specified they were looking specifically at a parking lot with some area already set aside for a green space.

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