Final Report: Testing the (Storm) Waters: Techniques for Surface Reclamation on Urban Brownfields

EPA Grant Number: SU835700
Title: Testing the (Storm) Waters: Techniques for Surface Reclamation on Urban Brownfields
Investigators: Coffman, Reid , Jefferson, Anne , Blackwood, Chris , Liu, Rui
Institution: Kent State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $14,685
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


1. Investigate the hydrological retention capabilities of perched and on-grade ecologically-oriented infrastructure. Working hypothesis: Green infrastructure
practices can be adapted to fit revitalizing industrial parcels.
2. Assess the potential of on-site material and solid waste material diversions in brownfield and industrial parcels for the creation of sustainable stormwater
management practices. Working hypothesis: Site materials could be diverted from landfills for use on-site to retain stormwater.
3. Investigate the potential for soil organisms, including mycofiltration, to enhance the primary ecological service of hydrologic retention and secondary ecological services of nutrient cycling including nitrogen retention and carbon sequestration. We postulate that soil microbial community function could facilitate secondary ecosystem services.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Our central hypothesis is that green infrastructure can be conceptualized to reduce stormwater discharge and assist with pollution abatement for brownfields while providing additional benefits to the land owner and local community. By pursuing this hypothesis, we discovered urban land owners with complex soil conditions and on-site stormwater liabilities were hesitant to invest into permanent stormwater solutions which may jeopardize future development opportunities on the parcel. As a result, our working hypotheses focused on a flexible or temporary form of green infrastructure for a property owners to deploy. Working hypothesis: Green infrastructure practices can be adapted to fit revitalizing industrial parcels.We created a set of novel techniques for infiltration-limited areas emphasizing hydrologic retention time, mass storage, evapotranspiration, and material recycle. The techniques have been developed through high quality visually instructive four dimensional (horizontal, vertical, volumetric and temporal) architectural modeling software of Rhino, Grasshopper, and AutoCad. Each technique contains ecological performance values and was conceptualized to contribute to a kit-of-parts approach that is understandable to a parcel owner. We advanced ne preliminary technology entitled movable meadow to full conceptual development phase. Movable meadow is a contained terrestrial meadow ecosystem built in 4’ x 4’ containers made of recycled plastic. The ecosystem intercepts rainfall and gathers sheet flow in sub-deck reservoirs and evapotranspires the water via soils and vegetation. When multiple containers are placed end to end they can cover large land areas such as an unused parking lot, roadways, or drives. The 4’ x 4’ containers can be installed and relocated by forklift.
Figure of a movable meadow evapotranspiring runoff and being easily deployed, or moved, by a forklift. The technology is capable of storing the 500 year storm event and with zero carbon emissions. (The movable meadow technology is under patent pending review.) Our initial results show the designed technology can retain a 500+ year storm event. Equally, the technology appears to be able to meet carbon neutrality very rapidly (< 3 years). These combined performances provide a highly novel solution to urban ecological infrastructure problems.

Working hypothesis: Site materials could be diverted from landfills by using them on site to retain stormwater. The technology development moved away from this goal and resultantly worked less on contextualized optimization using on-site materials in order to understand a flexible and movable green infrastructure. However, a life cycle analysis (LCA) created for this technology includes a triple bottom line (TBL) analysis in order to cover all areas of the P3 competition: People, Place and Prosperity. The triple bottom line equivalents of People, Place and Prosperity are social, environmental and economic. The preliminary TBL indicates beneficial outcomes in services provided by the new product. As the project proceeds with design optimization a prioritization will be placed on the growing media’s use of on-site and local materials. We postulate that soil microbial and invertebrate community function could facilitate secondary ecosystem services. By incorporating the complex set of trophic interactions found in soil into design and management of the movable meadow, we will take advantage of a rich set of ecological interactions to enhance performance of multiple ecosystem services. Soil microbes and invertebrates create the multi-scale soil pore structure necessary not only for efficient water infiltration and retention, but also protection of soil organic matter resulting in carbon sequestration. Beneficial soil fungi, matched to a managed dynamic plant community, will also improve plant nutrition and sustainability and remove contaminants from stormwater inputs.


In phase 1 the project illuminated the difficulties of post-industrial (brownfield) stormwater control adoption by conceptualizing, visualizing and evaluating an array of treatment strategies with input from representative partners. We advanced one idea to the conceptual stage (movable meadow) and incorporated several “add-ins”, which are aimed to broaden the ecosystem service benefits. From first phase assessment, we have shown the moveable meadow will intercept rainfall, increase retention time, and utilize soil moisture (interflow) to reduce runoff. The social, environmental and economic impacts of the product can improve the prosperity of a place, that has both direct and in-direct benefits to local citizens. The manufacturing and contextualization of the technology will have critical effects on its level of contribution to society. The moveable meadow will help stabilize blighted urban lands, facilitate recovery in disadvantaged neighborhoods and protect the regional environmental assets of groundwater and receiving streams and lakes. The investigation has educated a small number of students, land holders, and community members about stormwater pollution prevention, land revitalization, and biological function. With continued optimization, the technology will influence developers, municipal officials and regulatory agencies Immediate work has begun on the patient obtainment process. Partnerships with manufacturers and technology deplorers are underway. The next stage of design focuses on the optimization of the technology with emphasis being placed on growing media design for contextual considerations and the life cycle cost and benefit. Soil microbial and invertebrate inoculants will be a priority in delivering the broadest ecological and social services.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 4 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

zero stormwater discharge, carbon neutral, movable green infrastructure