Students study stormwater runoff at golf course

On these days, Maggie Messerschmidt, recent winner of the IU Office of Sustainability’s 2013 Campus Catalyst Award for Student Leadership, zips up her rain jacket and heads to the golf course to measure the stormwater runoff at the edge of the green.

Messerschmidt, a graduate student at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a Service Corps Fellow, is the coordinator of a student-led group researching and implementing green infrastructures on campus.

The goal of the project at the golf course, titled the Restoring Adaptations for Infrastructure (RAIN) Initiative, is to eradicate the negative effects of stormwater runoff.
The recent snow has put a temporary hold on their runoff measurement, but the group will continue to measure runoff as soon as the snow melts, Messerschmidt said.

“Instead of infiltrating through the ground, sheet run-off just slides over the top of the golf course,” Messerschmidt said. “The water contains chemicals and fertilizers that flow off roadways and travel across the surface of the golf course.”

Stormwater drainage problems are nothing new, nor are they specific to the IU Golf Course. The dangers of the runoff flowing down the ravines into nearby waterways has Messerschmidt and her team concerned.

“The suspended solids and mineral content in the water is very telling,” she said.
By installing v-notch, wooden weirs or dams at the ravine heads, the team has been able to collect measurements of stormwater nutrients and discharge.

The initiative’s goal is to install green infrastructures at different areas throughout the golf course this spring.

“The main purpose is to find a way to slow the flow off the golf course,” said Raija Bushnell, coordinator of the Office of Sustainability’s Environmental Quality and Land Use work group.

Filtration berms, rain gardens, native vegetation and water and sediment control basins are possible solutions the group is looking to implement at the site. Funding from grants and support from the Office of Sustainability and the IU Research and Teaching Preserve have made these goals feasible.

“The first berm we build in the spring is a pilot project,” Messerschmidt said. “It’s a test to make sure everyone is comfortable with the idea.”

The group works closely with golf course management to ensure the infrastructures will not interfere with the field of play.

If the stormwater problem is not addressed, new ravines will form and existing ravines will grow, eroding the manicured green.

“(Green infrastructures) would include upkeep for the golf course, but they would overall payoff in the future,” Messerschmidt said. “Ravines are destroying the course.”
Left unsolved, Messerschmidt said the problem could affect the accessibility and use of nearby waterways caused by the presence of toxins in the water.

“This campus is most students’ home for four years,” Bushnell said. “We should care not just about what it looks like, but the health of it. If you had a stream behind your house that was filled with mud and chemicals so bad that the fish died, you would care.”

Follow reporter Emma Harrison on Twitter at @emmaestelle09.

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