A River Runs Through It

Construction Project Prompts Development of Campus Stormwater Master Plan

Georgia Tech is renowned for transforming real-world challenges into teachable moments. Such was the case with the planning for the Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB) – currently under construction on 10th Street – a project that in turn led to the development of the 2013 Stormwater Master Plan.

The concept of stormwater management at Georgia Tech was envisioned as the “Eco-Commons” as part of the 2004 Campus Master Plan Update and 2006 Landscape Master Plan, and further refined during the 2011 Landscape Master Plan Update.

According to Jason Gregory, educational facilities planner with Capital Planning and Space Management, the Eco-Commons is a series of campus green spaces that follow the historic alignment of now buried streams, which also follow the alignment of the combined sanitary sewer lines. Restoring the historic streams would be costly and impractical; however, creating spaces that replicate the function of the streams is possible. This includes rain gardens, infiltration cells, bio retention areas, interconnected cisterns, and an increase in tree canopy coverage to mitigate stormwater runoff.

“A significant component of the Eco-Commons plan and Stormwater Master Plan is the large retention pond that is proposed near the EBB site,” said Gregory. “When planning for the EBB project, we quickly realized we needed to know exactly how large to make the pond and therefore needed to know how much water the system would generate and be captured. This is what prompted us to begin development of the plan.”

Why the Plan Matters

“The Stormwater Master Plan supports Georgia Tech’s sustainability mission and conserves water while protecting our primary drinking water source, the Chattahoochee River,” said Howard Wertheimer, director of Capital Planning and Space Management. “By developing the Stormwater Master Plan, we can provide additional educational and research opportunities with measurable results and performance metrics, as well as provide a recreational amenity for our campus community.”

Wertheimer said that in addition to setting the example for how to deal with stormwater at a regional level, the plan will provide a roadmap for the Eco-Commons infrastructure, allowing the Institute to reduce potable water use, reduce combined sewer overflows, and exceed the city’s stormwater regulations in a meaningful way.

Educational Opportunities

A unique aspect of the Stormwater Master Plan is the incorporation of an “educational overlay,” which provides an opportunity to update and enhance the current curriculum and stormwater-related course offerings.

Students in the Urban Stormwater Planning course taught by Professor Tom Debo (City and Regional Planning) served as part of the team that studied and validated the findings of the Stormwater Master Plan. Debo’s curriculum focuses on stormwater management, and the development of the stormwater model at Tech has provided a tool to measure the effectiveness of stormwater systems and test different alternatives.

“We also engaged [Research Engineer] Ramachandra Sivakumar in the College of Architecture’s Center for Geographic Information Systems to incorporate the stormwater model in the campus GIS data,” said Gregory. “And we had assistance from Ching-Hua Huang in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in studying the quality of the water in the various cisterns on campus. We are optimistic that there are many other opportunities to engage CEE and other colleges and schools to take advantage of Georgia Tech as a living learning laboratory.” 

—written by Dan Treadaway, Institute Communications


Jason Gregory
Capital Planning and Space Management

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