EDINBORO (Erie Times-News via AP) — A local environmental project is capturing attention along with pollutants.
The Edinboro Lake Watershed Association won a Western Pennsylvania Environmental Award this spring for its project to capture and filter stormwater runoff on General McLane School District grounds.
The project, completed in fall 2016, each year prevents an estimated 24 pounds of phosphorous and 10,000 pounds of sediments from reaching Edinboro Lake.
It does double duty as a classroom where students and the public can learn about protecting the environment.
“We’re very proud of the project and very pleased that the schools and public have taken notice,” said Steve Halmi, project engineer with the Edinboro Lake Watershed Association and an engineer with Deiss & Halmi Engineering of Edinboro. “It’s why we chose the site. It’s a school campus and also publicly accessible so people can see how this works.”
A rain garden near the school district’s Therese Walter Education Center, a trench between the James W. Parker Middle School parking lot and tennis courts, and a swale along General McLane Drive capture, store and filter runoff and force it into the ground, where it is further filtered to remove automotive oil and other pollutants that otherwise would end up in the lake.
Native plants in the rain garden and swale also filter pollutants, through their roots.
The environmental project is meant to inspire people to think of more ways to protect the lake, said Brian Zimmerman, watershed association president and chairman of the geosciences department at Edinboro University.
“It’s meant to get people thinking and realizing that there are lots of different things that can be done to help with water quality in the lake,” Zimmerman said at the start of the project in 2016.
General McLane High School biology teacher and Envirothon environmental competition adviser Karen Yonko said she appreciates having the project on school grounds, where students can see water coming into the rain garden.
“We can go out on a rainy day and actually see sediment or runoff coming off the parking lot and talk about how it filters pollutants like all of the salt and anti-skid that’s put down,” she said.
Students also have identified insects and butterflies attracted by plants in the rain garden and taken small samples of plants to study, Yonko said.
Nate Moore teaches an Advanced Placement environmental science course launched at General McLane this school year. He looks forward to using the runoff management systems to illustrate what he teaches in class.
“We study conservation techniques and also talk about land use, things like urbanization and suburban land use and agriculture,” he said. “Specifically with urbanization and parking lots there are all those issues of pollutants and runoff that’s difficult to control because it’s not a specific type coming from a factory that we can put control measures on. We need these style of projects to help mitigate the runoff that’s more diffuse.”
The stormwater runoff project was funded by a $145,000 Growing Greener grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
A $5,000 cash prize given with the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Award by Dominion Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council on March 26 will help further protect Edinboro Lake Watershed, Halmi said.
“We’ll use the award as seed money for future projects,” he said.