Wetland concerns prompt chiller plant plan change

Joanna Dornfeld

Concerns that a proposed St. Paul chiller plant would harm an adjacent wetland restoration project have been addressed by a new University proposal.

The centralized chiller plant will still be constructed next to the Sarita Wetland, but the new environmentally friendly proposal might eventually enhance plant and animal viability in the area, said Suzanne Savanick, Sustainable Campus Initiative coordinator.

University faculty, staff and students are working together to ease St. Paul campus storm water management concerns in conjunction with the centralized chiller plant infrastructure construction.

“We definitely have some very good opportunities to change storm water management on the St. Paul campus,” Savanick said.

Chiller plants provide the cooling system for buildings. Most buildings on the St. Paul campus have chillers in the basements, but they are old and will soon need to be replaced.

The centralized chiller plant project will run more efficiently than each of the individual chillers.

The installation will be completed in three stages over six years. The University is requesting funds for stage one.

If water infiltration gardens and other storm water management facilities are installed in the northern part of campus, the storm water runoff in the Sarita Wetland would be reduced, said Greg Archer, a University environmental compliance specialist.

When large storms come through the area, up to four feet of water rushes through the wetland in a short period of time, washing out most of the wildlife. This storm water “bounce” prohibits the wetland from sustaining natural animal and plant life.

“A problem by today’s standards, that may be a fair assessment, but we are operating under higher standards than 10 to 20 years ago,” said University Planning director Harvey Turner. “We are beginning to wake up to what we are doing to the environment.”

According to Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the University must implement a storm water management plan by November 2002. Therefore, the University must correct storm water runoff that flows through the Sarita Wetland.

The Capitol Regional Watershed District recently performed a hydraulic study to determine the quality and the quantity of storm water runoff, said Terry Noonan, Capitol Regional Watershed District technical staff assistant. The study provided information about the storm water runoff from the University, State Fairgrounds and the Falcon Heights neighborhood.

The Sustainable Campus Initiative is collaborating with Facilities Management and other departments to implement a plan that would improve storm water management without increasing the cost of the chiller plant project.

Plant construction requires digging trenches around the St. Paul campus. The University needs to replace lost vegetation, so putting in plants to alleviate the storm water runoff would be a practical solution, Savanick said.

However, some University officials do not believe storm water management will be improved through revegetation.

The chiller plant and pipeline will not have a positive or negative impact on storm water flowing into the Sarita Wetland, Turner said.

Sarita Wetland and the storm water infiltration gardens throughout the campus can be used for teaching as well as research. Jim Perry, fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology department head, has used the wetland in classes for years.

The storm water management infrastructure throughout the campus might become an important teaching and research tool for
faculty and students.

“Our opportunity is to make this campus a national model for storm water management,” Savanick said.

Funding for the chiller plant infrastructure included in the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement is the top priority in the University budget request for the Legislature. HEAPR funds are used for building maintenance and renovations. The regents approved the request at their last meeting.

The project funds designated for revegetation can be used for plants that will improve storm water management.

 

Joanna Dornfeld covers the St. Paul
campus and welcomes comments at
[email protected]