After six weeks of field work and research, seven students from the environmental studies course, “Sustainable Community Development Methods & Tools,” presented their recommendations about stormwater wetland development to the Town of Canandaigua in a special joint meeting of the Town’s governing boards in May.
The Town of Canandaigua is exploring how to manage the upper basin of Sucker Brook, a large stream that begins in the Town and flows through neighborhoods in the City of Canandaigua. After flash flooding in May 2014 that damaged homes, streets, and businesses throughout the Finger Lakes region, the Town has been actively seeking ways to mitigate water quality and flood risks throughout these neighboring communities.
Throughout the spring semester, Michael Conte ’16, Tim Dirgins ’16, Ryan Kertanis ’16, Will Mosto ’15, Haley Norrgard ’15, Rebecca Siegel ’15 and Alex Vitulano ’16 visited the Town and examined eight prospective sites to develop new stormwater wetlands as part of the course, which was co-taught by Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Chair of Sustainable Community Development Robin Lewis and Jim Ochterski, the program manager of the Finger Lake Community Development Center at the HWS Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) and further supported by teaching colleagues Jordan Mueller ’15 and Zachary Reed ’15.
“Working during the ENV 351 class was nerve-wracking because we wanted it to be perfect, not for a good grade, but so the Town of Canandaigua would actually use our proposal,” says Norrgard. “What made it more difficult was that the Town wanted us to create the report, and then decide if it was what they were looking for. This meant we had to create the question, and then find the answers. It was daunting at first, but we learned that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel; we can use someone else’s idea and expand on it to fit our own project.”
Stormwater wetlands are constructed to reduce the flow volume of runoff following torrential rainfall or the melting of snow in the area. They can increase absorption to groundwater, and potentially reduce water-borne pollutants while creating wildlife habitats and enhancing local recreation opportunities.
The project included complex issues related to private land ownership, expenses, and accommodating nearby land uses. Armed with geospatial data and technical input from advisers about the placement, design, and function of stormwater wetlands, the students devised a prioritization table to compare the merits of each site. On May 5, the project team jointly presented their work, arguing that three of the eight sites warranted further evaluation and engineering studies.
“The recommendations presented by the student team represent their analysis and judgement,” says Ochterski. “The team approached the sustainable stormwater project without preconceptions. They assisted the Town by serving as independent consultants, providing key information to make these kinds of public investment decisions.”
In addition putting their environmental research and planning skills to the test, the course also exposed the students to many professional skills such as time management, client communications, group work, and dealing with an environment of changing information. A separate team of students in the course also provided the Town of Canandaigua with a master plan for multimodal transportation in an area slated for new multi-family residential and commercial development in the near-term future.