University garners two new grants related to water quality

Contact: Jeanne Baron
Photo of a drop in a pool of water.

Work funded by the grants will be complete by 2017.

KALAMAZOO—Stormwater management and related efforts on campus received a big boost this month, when the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that Western Michigan University has been awarded two grants totaling $757,214.

Facilities Management applied for the funding from the state's Stormwater, Asset Management and Wastewater Program, which aims to accelerate the statewide use of asset management planning practices as well as to improve water quality.

The program only has $97 million available for the 2014 fiscal year, but the environmental quality department received 673 applications seeking $541 million. WMU's early submission of its applications put it in a lottery to receive a portion of the funds available.

Peter J. Strazdas, associate vice president for Facilities Management, says the University will use its $516,061 and $241,153 grants to create campuswide stormwater and wastewater asset management plans. These projects will involve inventory data collection, condition assessment, risk assessment, metering, computer modeling and mapping.

"These projects will support a cost-effective approach and guide our stewardship role with the University's stormwater and wastewater districts. They also are in alignment with the sustainability priorities established in the University's Strategic Plan," Strazdas says.

"We'll be enhancing our infrastructure stewardship responsibilities and supporting improved water quality for the next generation in Kalamazoo. Clean and safe drinking water is becoming a big issue in our society. The actions we take today through our plans will have a significant and lasting effect for our children and grandchildren."

Systemwide condition assessment

Daniel J. List, geographic information systems manager in the Facilities Management Engineering Division, will be the point person for the plans. Work on them may start as early as this coming summer but must be completed by June 2017.

List says the bulk of the work over the next three years will involve surveys and inspections, not physical construction.

"This grant will generate a life-cycle financial plan to support the maintenance and replacement needs that have been placed on our aging infrastructure," he says. "This will support a systemwide condition assessment on both storm and sanitary sewer systems to serve as the baseline for modeling these future maintenance and replacement costs."

List notes that WMU operates separate sanitary and storm sewer systems. The sanitary sewer system handles all wastewater while the storm sewer system collects rainwater, or stormwater as it's commonly called.

Wastewater goes into the city of Kalamazoo's system and is ultimately treated at the city's water reclamation plant.

Most of the main campus' stormwater is conveyed to treatment sites on campus and allowed to filter into the ground rather than enter the surrounding Arcadia Creek Watershed. The University's Parkview Campus has a storm sewer system that is 100 percent contained on site and does not contribute any runoff to off-site water bodies.

"Sewer infrastructure failure can result in environmental damages, ranging from flooding and erosion to discharges of wastewater, potentially damaging the lakes, streams and drinking water we rely on," List says.

Decade-long attention to water quality

WMU's two new grants are just the latest success stories in a program begun about 10 years ago to greatly enhance the University's storm sewer system and take on other projects that improve and protect the local region's overall water quality.

"Our concerted use of best management practices and proactive efforts to seek grant assistance have made a substantial difference," Strazdas says. "The majority of campus is stormwater neutral now, and WMU has become a recognized leader in stormwater management as well as campus sustainability."