SCSU Students Work to Curb Pollution, Pt. 1

SCSU Student organizations banded together and created a task force to help revise SCSU’s Q Parking Lot Pollution Reduction Project plan.

The project broke ground the first week of May after an environmental assessment of the area. Before moving forward with development Joseph Teff, SCSU safety administrator, said that the soil was tested to make sure it was free of contaminants. After coming back clean, the project was given a green light and construction has been underway.

According to Teff, who is also the project coordinator, the project came to mind after finding that storm water flowed to an outfall, draining directly into the river without any type of retention. Given that the 8-acre parking lot doesn’t allow for water to seep into ground, the storm water flows over the surface, carrying “sediment, bacteria, automotive fluids and other pollutants” from Q Parking Lot into the Mississippi River, according to the project application.

“We recognized [the runoff] was an issue, and we found out about a grant opportunity,” Teff said.

The project’s approval process took roughly three years, Teff said. After gathering all the details about the project and perfecting the plans, SCSU received a $196,586-grant provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The overall purpose of the project is to protect the Mississippi River, Teff said. The project aims to reduce the amount of total suspended solids that enter the river by 2,942 pounds annually, along with 191 pounds of phosphorus and 120 pounds of nitrogen, according to SCSU’s project application. It’s designed to treat the first 1 inch of rainfall, which will help reduce the amount of bacteria, like E. Coli, and Mercury entering the river, the project application stated.

The grant is administered through the Stearns County Soil and Water District. This Best Management Practices (BMPs) agreement  is set in place for 20 years to help reduce the amount of sediment entering the river, and to help control runoff and storm water pollution. If ended before the 20-year mark, the funds must be paid back.

For the time being, the once concrete and gravel space near the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center is being prepped and dug up for a retention pond, infiltration trench and a native plant buffer zone to take its place. If you’re walking along the Beaver Island Trail, you can how the project is coming.

The plan is to dig a retention pond and infiltration basin on the south end of the lot to, and in the eastern corner they’re placing a native plant buffering zone, along with reconstructing an outlet that leads to the river, according to the project plans.

SCSU Biology Professor Matthew Julius explained that the retention pond and infiltration trench act like wetlands. They’re designed to take in rainfall, and in that process, any bacteria, sediments and nutrients found in the road runoff have the chance to settle out. The idea of “natural scrubbing” comes in to play, helping clean up the various pollutants from the runoff, Julius said.

Then, by planting the wildflowers, any future plans involving surfaces that demand fertilizer, like a baseball field or a grassy area, the flowers will help soak up any nitrogen and phosphorus that comes along, Julius said. The project plans include roughly 7,000 native wild flowers.

Overall, Professor Julius said the ideas for the project are beneficial from an environmental standpoint, but there is a potential downside to the project.

Julius compared the artificial pond to pouring water down a funnel into a bottle. Once the bottle is full, it simply can’t take in any more water.

This means that if the area sees a rainfall greater than 1 inch, then suspended solids and sediments could rush into the river.

Stated in a letter addressed to the project’s team, SCSU’s Ecology Club—now the Student Organization for Conservation and Climate Action (SOCCA)—and the Biology Graduate Student Association wrote that “a large influx of nutrients into the system is much more difficult for an ecosystem to recover from than persistent low-level inputs.”

According to the application, the project “will be capturing and treating between 90 and 95 percent of all the precipitation events.”


This article originally appeared in the University Chronicle on June 16, 2015.