Sustainable capstone project monitors RMSC exhibit

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Christy Tyler

Students Josephine Ibanez, left, and Paige Baker contributed to the project that monitors the system and educates the public about green technology.

An RIT senior capstone project at the Rochester Museum & Science Center has given a team of environmental science students a crash course in green infrastructure and sustainable design.

RIT students are contributing to a five-year project to monitor the museum’s Regional Green Infrastructure Showcase. The installation reduces storm-water runoff and improves water quality. A museum exhibit, designed and developed by RIT students, illustrates the rain water saved by the installation in terms of bathtubs full of water.

The capstone project, now in its second year, is overseen by the Water Education Collaborative, a not-for-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Rochester Museum & Science Center. Christy Tyler, associate professor of environmental science in the Thomas H. Gosnell College of Life Sciences, is a member of the collaborative and the capstone adviser.

“The idea with these installations is to try to build back in some of the natural flow processes and try to get the storm water runoff back into the ground and not into a pipe,” Tyler said.

Parking lots, roofs and other impervious surfaces increase the volume of storm water runoff and wash contaminants like fertilizer, pesticides and road salt into the sewer. The runoff adds volume at the Van Lare Wastewater Treatment Plant and, during heavy rainfalls, risks overflowing the system and carrying sewage into the Genesee River or Irondequoit Bay, eventually entering Lake Ontario. Green practices can mitigate the runoff, Tyler said.

The current team installed a network of water-level sensors throughout the green infrastructure. Now students are collecting and analyzing data on the efficiency of the green roof, bioretention areas and rain gardens, pervious asphalt and concrete—which allows water to permeate surfaces—storm-water tree pits and rainwater harvesting.

“The entire system is connected,” said Paige Baker, an environmental science major from Fairport, N.Y. “The different pieces of technology that we’ve installed monitor the quality and quantity of runoff. When you see everything on the map, and it’s going in all these different places, and we get our data, it gives us the big picture. It’s cool to see how it all works together to meet our goals.”

Josephine Ibanez, an environmental science major from North Vale, N.J., was a member of the original team that conceptualized the monitoring system and designed the exhibit. Now she is a student-mentor to the team and provides continuity for the project.

“Green infrastructure is relatively new, so there isn’t a lot of long-term research on it, which is the goal of this project,” Ibanez said.

Museum staff will monitor and evaluate the installation over time following the students’ recommended protocol.

The project has been a “great collaborative help,” said Joe Graves, vice president of operations at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. “It’s not what we do, so it’s nice to have the expertise of the students and Christy Tyler helping us through.”

Paul Sawyko, coordinator at the Water Education Collaborative, works with the capstone team—Baker, Laura Denlinger from Suffern, N.Y.; Sarah Goldsmith from Grantham, N.H.; and Joe Porsella from Long Island, N.Y.—and approved their approach.

“Places will implement green infrastructure but not know how it works or be able to identify efficiency,” Sawyko said. “We want to be able to go further and note how well the practices work and how they hold up over time.”