Public Release: 

UTSA professors receive grant to study San Antonio storm water

Top-tier research could help recharge the Edwards Aquifer

University of Texas at San Antonio

Marcio Giacomoni, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and Heather Shipley, associate professor and chair of the UTSA Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), have received a $42,800 grant from the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance and San Antonio River Authority to support top-tier research on how storm water can be decontaminated and used by the San Antonio community.

"We're trying to address many different water problems," Giacomoni said. "Our goal is to enhance the city's ability to provide water for the growing population."

While San Antonio is often staring down the problem of a water shortage, it also must manage the challenge of having too much water due to Texas storms. Giacomoni believes that one problem can help alleviate another, and he plans to prove it at UTSA.

The UTSA Main Campus is located on the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, an area where rainfall flows through fractured limestone and replenishes the aquifer. The aquifer is the source of drinking water for much of central Texas.

"When it rains, some storm water becomes contaminated by bacteria, sediments and toxic chemicals on roads or other surfaces," he said. "If we could purify that water, it could be carried out into the aquifer and benefit our community."

To clean the storm water, existing regulation requires reducing suspended solids in storm water, which is typically achieved by sand filter basins--small ponds with a layer of sand at their base that collect surface runoff from parking lots and buildings. The basins' sand layer acts as a natural filter for sediment and pollutants. Several already exist on the UTSA Main Campus.

"Our hope is that we'll have a good assessment of how polluted storm water is, and if it can infiltrate to the aquifer after being treated by a sand filter basin," he said.

They will embark on a one-year project to assess storm water treated by sand filter basins on campus. Once the researchers have a better understanding of the quality of the water, they'll move on to study Low Impact Development (LID), such as bioretentions or rain gardens. In that treatment, the basin's sand layer is replaced by soil with plants, which is able to treat many pollutants found in storm water through physical, chemical and biological processes.

"I hope that as the campus and the city expands, more sustainable practices or green infrastructure, such as LID, can be implemented," he said. "The UTSA community is poised to take advantage of our green space and use it to help give back to our larger community: Texas."

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