The main parking lot on Selkirk College's Castlegar Campus recently underwent a major makeover with the creation of bioswales which will protect local water systems from sediment and chemical runoff from urban environments.
Selkirk College students in the Recreation, Fish & Wildlife Program helped bring the Castlegar Campus parking lot bioswale project to life. A bioswale works to capture, localize and accumulate storm water runoff, and to prevent or delay it entering into the greater watershed. The project was impactful for RFW Ecosystems Management Class. Here are their stories...
What’s the deal with the new parking lot at Selkirk College? by Alex Nash
For those of us familiar with the Selkirk College campus it would be hard not to notice the vast improvements that have been made to the main parking lot on the west side. New lighting, new hardtop, new paint, and new vegetation are all visible to anyone who visits.
But there is much more going on there than meets the eye: BIOSWALES! Anyone who has studied at Selkirk has been taught the importance of multi-tasking and the new parking lot is a perfect example of just that. It’s no longer just a place to store your vehicle while embracing your quest for higher learning but also an active component of the urban eco-system around campus that we can all be proud of!
Photo: M. Giesler
One of the most important things we can do for the environment is plan for the future. Creating bioswales is an excellent way to do that. “What the heck is a bioswale?” you ask. Well, let me tell you. It’s low impact landscape engineering with an ecological function. When you properly engineer the landscape, it can be utilised to improve its ecology. With the inevitable onset of climate change, we have been experiencing far more run off events and many municipal sewer systems weren’t designed the handle the new volumes. This can lead to flooding, soil erosion and sedimentation.
Bioswales combat this problem by strategically redirecting ground water. First on the surface toward the bioswale itself (a self-contained island garden), then sub-terrainially through a series of pipes and overflow systems, toward a downhill collection area. A collection area that has been designed to evolve into a wetland! Through this process, the velocity of the run off is slowed giving the bioswale time to remove unwanted silts and pollutants. If you would like to know more detail about bioswales, I found this Plant Life and Water Retention article to be quite informative.
It truly is a marvel of engineering and forethought that we at Selkirk are lucky to be part of! As a 2nd year student of the RFW program we were responsible for planting the multitude of local grasses, herbs, and shrubs that you now see throughout the new bioswales. It is a piece of local history that I am proud to have been a part of. There are many others responsible for making this project happen including Mike Geisler and the sustainability committee, WSA Engineering (design), MH Landscaping (construction), City of Castlegar (composted soil), and also the 2nd year IEP students (planting).
Learning about how best we can improve our environment is the first step toward doing it. The bioswale project here at Selkirk gave us a perfect opportunity to physically implement some of what we’ve learned in the place that has taught us so much.
Recreation, Fish & Wildlife student Beth Newbery, shows off her groups completed bioswale. Photo: H. Korens
All’swale that ends bioswale by Heidi Korens
With more intense rainfall in the forecast as climate change becomes more rampant, how can we stop that rainfall from eroding banks, bringing more sediment and waste into our drainage systems, or even flooding?
This past spring, plans were set to repave the parking lots at Selkirk College’s Castlegar campus. With help from Doris Hausleitner and Mike Geisler of Selkirk’s Sustainability Committee, a proposal was put forth to implement bioswales in order to slow the effects of climate change on school grounds. The proposal was reviewed, and given the go-ahead by the college. Castlegar’s own WSA Engineering was commissioned to design the project, and MH Landscaping completed the construction.
What is a bioswale?
A bioswale is a type of ditch that is designed to slow down and remove silt and waste from runoff water before it enters our drainage systems. It consists of a
depression that is filled with soil, with a series of underground pipes directing excess water to nearby bioswales, and an outflow area. The surrounding pavement gently slopes towards the bioswale, directing runoff into it. Plants that can resist both heavy water and drought are often installed in the soil.
How do bioswales work?
As water enters a bioswale, the soil slows and absorbs runoff water, sediments, even waste. The water hydrates vegetation in the bioswale, and any excess flows into pipes directed at other bioswales in the vicinity. If there is leftover water after working through the network of bioswales, it eventually exits to a runoff outflow area. In Selkirk College’s case, the outflow area was designed as two depressions making way for a wetland to form.
In early October, 2017, Recreation, Fish and Wildlife and Integrated Environmental Planning Students from the School of Environment and Geomatics were put to work planting the bioswales. A selection of native plants compost from the City of Castlegar, rooting fertilizer and some gardening tools were given to students, and away they went!
The native plants were bought from Sagebrush Nurseries in Oliver, and the selection included Saskatoon, mock orange, kinnickinnick, woods rose, Oregon grape, blue oat grass, switchgrass, shrubby penstemon, and common white yarrow. All are considered good plants for heavy water saturation and drought.
Once the native species were planted, they were given a healthy dose of water to better establish themselves. Now, we wait, let the weather do its thing, and watch the plants grow! Not only will the bioswales aid in preserving the college grounds from erosion and flooding, it will look beautiful as well!
Leeza and Beth positioning plants just right. Photo: H. Korens
Bioswales and the Future of a Wetland by Natasha Olsoff & Mackenzie Gibson
You may have noticed that there have been fancy new additions to the recently upgraded south wing parking lot, including some new plants (which are native to the Kootenays, by the way). Maybe you even noticed Selkirk College’s very own students getting their hands dirty and planting them? Perhaps the new plants are a mystery to you, suddenly appearing overnight and seemingly having been placed there by environmentally friendly aliens. Or maybe, you haven’t noticed a difference at all.
In any case, what’s the deal? Are the new meridians and plants purely there for aesthetic value? Or do they hold another, more environmentally important purpose? In fact, these new meridians are part of an intricate system of bioswales, designed not only to convenience you but to improve the land of the west that we all know and love.
So, what’s a bioswale? In essence, it is a vegetated ditch that helps to remove pollutants from surface water, as well as slow down the speed of which the water is moving. It will have a swale (a depression in the landscape) directing the flow of water into a desired location. You can imagine that the parking lot, full of vehicles for 8 months of the year, will produce quite the amount of automotive pollutants. These bioswales have gently sloping sides and are filled with vegetation, compost and large pieces of cobble to allow for filtration of pollutants and drainage of water.
If you are one of the students/staff that uses the green compost bins available to you on campus, then you too have helped in the creation of these bioswales! Organic compost material was used in the planting of these native plants to help them grow and thrive. Thanks for your organic contribution, Selkirk College student/staff!
What about the wetland? Not only are these bioswales helping to remove pollution that is deposited by vehicles and other contributing factors on campus, they are transporting the filtered water to an area which may one day become a wetland. Yes! Selkirk College may have its very own wetland!
Wetlands provide both flora and fauna immense opportunities to flourish. They can purify water, protect against floods and provide stabilization to banks. The endangered Great Blue Heron is even known to frequent wetlands, so you may even have the opportunity for some choice wildlife viewing!
Now you can both enjoy the new aesthetics of the south wing parking lot, and know that it is ultimately serving a much greater purpose.