How the Stevens "Living Laboratory" Will Revolutionize Urban Stormwater Management

Stevens has its very first Living Laboratory—thanks to Elizabeth Fassman-Beck.

Fassman-Beck is a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. An associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, Fassman-Beck teaches engineering hydrology and stormwater management. She is the author of a book about integrating living roofs into urban water systems. She is also one of the world's leading experts on green roofs. Her research at Stevens focuses on urban stormwater management.

The Living Laboratory is her latest project. The Living Laboratory is a research site located in the newly renovated North building. Studying hydrology and water quality performance in green infrastructure systems, the lab—dubbed the “Living Laboratory” by Fassman-Beck’s students—hosts a rain garden, multiple bioretention planters and multiple green roof setups in order to create different forms of urban bioretention solutions. Bioretention is the process in which contaminants are removed from stormwater runoff. Bioretention is also really effective at reducing quantity, and both are big problems for many cities across the country and around the world.

It’s a particularly big problem for Hoboken New Jersey, where Stevens is located.

Helping Hoboken Manage Water Runoff
Between its location on the Hudson River’s floodplain and being only three feet above sea level at its lowest point, Hoboken floods easily and often. That leads to numerous problems with contaminants, as Fassman-Beck explains:

When it rains, runoff goes into same sewer that holds waste. The sewer pipe doesn’t have the capacity to carry all of it to the treatment plant, so some runoff flow bypasses the treatment plant and discharges untreated runoff directly into the Hudson River. When those water treatment systems were originally conceived, no one imagined there would be such a huge population build up as there is now.

Hoboken needs water management solutions that work in a highly developed urban location. That means, “putting small small scale water retention systems everywhere” according to Fassman-Beck. “We can’t take up a parking space to build a rain garden. Instead, we want to optimize bioretention planter design to have meaningful impact. We want to know how small is too small for one of these systems, and figure out the potential for widespread implementation here in Hoboken.”

That local application is key to the Living Lab, as Fassman-Beck and her students are working with multiple entities to find a green infrastructure solution to the runoff problem. “We see green infrastructure technologies as superior, cost-effective ways to keep rainwater out of the sewer as opposed to building bigger treatment plants and sewer systems,” Fassman-Beck explains.

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