efore they even arrived on campus in the fall of 2012, Withall and Caitlin Feehan
, another second-year F&ES student, had contacted Gentry to express their interest in green infrastructure issues.
Before long, Gentry asked Withall and Feehan to help develop the new iteration of the ecosystems services class — taught last spring by Gentry, Ashton, and PhD student Jenn Hoyle
— and put the new students in touch with Yale’s facilities department, where they were hired to help coordinate the stormwater plan.
The class’s 13 students helped organize the four-city tour which highlighted concepts that they would bring back to Yale. In New York, they noticed an emphasis on implementing data-based projects (“very Bloombergian,” Withall said.); In Philadelphia, they learned the importance of follow-up analysis to assess system performance. And in Baltimore, they saw the value of collaboration.
“What all these cities helped us understand,” Feehan said, “was the importance of getting projects in the ground, just to see how they function in your own city.”
Back in New Haven, the students identified an obvious area where Yale could improve its own runoff performance: storm drains. Specifically, they noticed that numerous buildings had storm drains that dumped water directly into sewers. It’s a common enough feature that can produce flooding during heavy rain events, and send wastewater into public water supplies and natural ecosystems.
As part of the stormwater management plan, the students recommended that the university conduct an assessment of drainage systems campus-wide, which is now nearing completion. Eventually, the findings could yield new drainage designs — such as ones that divert rainwater from sewers toward rain gardens that absorb the water into the soil — or the planting of more water-tolerant vegetation.
“And Yale has a significant amount of square footage that is roof surface,” Withall said. “So if we can somehow manage some of that, that can be a potentially huge impact in New Haven.”