University of MN Uses Stormwater in a ‘Cool’ Way

The University of Minnesota, in an effort to protect local water sources and reduce stormwater runoff, is building systems that collect stormwater to cool buildings around campus.

A system is being built near Pioneer Hall and the new Health Sciences Education Center, which are both under construction. Once running, the system will store, filter, chill and evaporate stormwater to cool these buildings through air conditioning.

The project is expected to be running after construction on the buildings is completed. Pioneer Hall renovations will be done this summer and construction on the Education Center is predicted to be finished in December. The new system is expected to collect and use more than 3.5 million gallons of stormwater once it is completed.

This is not the University’s first stormwater collection system, and engineers for the projects are planning to expand to other buildings on campus.

A stormwater collection system was installed during construction of Athlete’s Village, which opened at the beginning of last year. A large underground storage facility was built under the football practice field to store over 350,000 gallons of stormwater gathered from around the complex.

The water is stored and used to cool buildings part of Athlete’s Village during the warmer months of the year. About 1.5 million gallons of water are used annually in an average season to cool these buildings, according to Scott McCord, head mechanical engineer for the projects.

The summer of 2018, its first season in use, the collection system was able to supply most of the water for the cooling system, McCord said.

“This is cutting edge for the state of Minnesota,” said Cathy Abene, head civil engineer for the project. “We are the first place in Minnesota to have something on this scale.”

Water for cooling buildings around campus is usually purchased from the City of Minneapolis, Abene said.

The system was developed in part because of Minneapolis’ requirements regarding the amount of stormwater runoff that can get into nearby water systems, like the Mississippi River.

Stormwater runoff in urban landscapes is a challenge because the water can become polluted by things like gasoline, lawn fertilizers and trash.

“There is an environmental benefit to keeping stormwater on site and not having stormwater collect pollution from the city and it getting into rivers and lakes,” said Laura Allen, co-founder of Greywater Action, a nonprofit that educates people on sustainable water use.

The University first began using stormwater as a resource in 17th Avenue Residence Hall. Stormwater collected from the roof of the hall provides water for toilet systems in the building.

To be more efficient and cost effective, engineers are considering installing stormwater collection systems for buildings being built or renovated around campus.

“It makes sense to include this as part of larger renewal projects,” McCord said. “It is difficult to keep it cost effective without a larger project. We need to be good stewards of University funding.”

Engineers are looking at other buildings near Pioneer Hall and the Education Center to implement stormwater collection systems.

“We are in the early phases of this,” Abene said. “We want to see what [stormwater] can offer … and spread awareness about stormwater quality.”

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