Scientists often evaluate Low Impact Development (LID) design by quantifying how much stormwater rain garden systems (cells) can divert from the sewer system. But Dr. Amanda Cording and her research team want to understand what’s happening inside the cell in order to improve the effectiveness of rain garden design (see part 1). Below are the results of their research.
Cording says that some of her key findings were that the soil media and vegetation selection is absolutely crucial to the performance of these systems. Cording’s team looked at the root layering perspective in three dimensions and found that deep rooted systems were found to have a much better ability to hold the soil in place and remove nutrients throughout the life cycle of the cell. The more surface area the roots covered, the more pollutants the cell would remove. She adds, “Cells with deep-rooted plants were found to be resilient during increased precipitation due to climate change, did well at retaining peak flow rates, and performed well at removing total suspended solids and nutrients predominantly associated with particulates.” Labile nutrients, Cording says, were a completely different story. She says the bioretention systems have to be specifically designed to remove those nutrients through sorption (P) and denitrification (N).
Compost, which is often used as an organic amendment in the soil media to help remove heavy metals and provide nutrients for the plants, was found to have a negative effect on water quality overall, due to the high pre-existing labile N and P content. She says, “It’s intuitive, but at the same time, a lot of these systems are designed based on bloom time and color, and not necessarily on the physical and chemical pollutant removal mechanisms at work.”
What Lies Ahead?
Cording also tested a proprietary bioengineered media in two of her cells which was designed to remove the phosphorous that causes algal blooms in the rivers and streams. She says, “It did a phenomenal job. There was very little phosphorous coming out compared to the traditionally-designed retention cells. Cording, who is now based in Honolulu and works for an ecological engineering company called EcoSolutions, is looking at how to use natural, highly-leached iron rich soils, to get a similar amount of phosphorous removal, and how bioretention can be designed with anoxic storage zones to remove nitrate via denitrification. She says, “These nutrients can be easily removed from stormwater with a little conscious design effort and a splash of chemistry.”
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