Bio-retention Rain Gardens at the University of Utah

By Scott Jenson, Utelite Corporation

In May of 2010, several of University of Utah students gathered to install a new rain garden at the University’s Civil and Materials Engineering Building. It was the first and most notable project to be built with funding from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, which is collected from student fees.

The new rain garden featured drought-resistant, native plant species and was designed to capture storm water from the adjoining parking lot and roadway. The subsurface profile was a layered system consisting of 3/8” lightweight expanded shale aggregate topped by an amended topsoil layer and capped with a crushed rock mulch layer. The system was monitored to determine how well it functioned, the distribution of the water and if the current design enabled proper filtration and flow of storm water. That first rain garden was very successful and enabled project managers to secure funding for additional bio-retention gardens to be implemented on campus.

In August 2010, a 14,500-square-foot addition to the former Energy and Materials Research Building was completed and later renamed the Meldrum Civil Engineering Building. Among the many prominent features of the new building is a bio-retention garden. Through private donations and sustainable funds, the bio-retention garden was installed using similar design criteria as in the previous rain gardens. However, the new rain garden will provide additional research opportunities that include cost analysis of irrigation versus bio-retention, filtration effectiveness, plant available water and uptake, storm water management strategies, storage capacity and other related concerns. The Meldrum Building rain gardens feature an information kiosk to explain their function to interested students and campus visitors. The garden has been a tremendous success. Whitney Williams, SCIF Coordinator with the Office of Sustainability, commented, “Within the first week of installation, the garden succeeded dramatically when it captured thousands of gallons of water that were escaping from a broken pipe that would otherwise flooded the Meldrum Civil Engineering Building.”

University of Utah researchers are hopeful that the information gathered from the rain gardens will help facilitate the University’s goal of managing storm water as a resource to sustain landscaping and reduce harmful storm water runoff. The information will also be used to implement bio-retention gardens in more locations throughout the Intermountain Region.

Photo Gallery

  • Bio-retention at Meldrum Civil Engineering Building (Photo credit: Utelite)
  • Information Kiosk for Rain Gardens (Photo credit: Utelite)
  • Bio-retention Garden plant with Native Plants (Photo credit: Utelite)
  • Rain Garden Cross Section (Photo credit: Utelite)