Teaching Sustainability Concepts Through An Applied Environmental Engineering Laboratory: Studying Storm Water Ponds At The University And In Local Communities

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Conference Proceeding

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Stormwater ponds are vital for the control of floodwaters and the reduction in pollution loads reaching larger water bodies. Community awareness programs aim to reduce pollution in runoff from the built environment and this was the theme used to frame a class project which can be expanded to be an informal university wide awareness campaign. The University of South Florida (USF) is located in an impaired, closed watershed and its four stormwater ponds and wetlands area represent approximately 6.4% of the total area. A water quality monitoring program for these ponds is currently not in place and this class project was designed to provide a sustained way to gather that information and share with the rest of the university through the internet on the school’s Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) chapter website. The ESW chapter recently initiated a similar program in a nearby economically disadvantaged community, East Tampa, which is currently beautifying three of its stormwater ponds.

The Environmental Engineering Laboratory at USF is a required 1 unit course offered in the Fall and Spring semester each year with a total enrollment of 60 students each semester. Students work in teams of 3 to conduct experiments and write reports for a series of labs that explore water quality measurements (e.g. pH, turbidity, DO, hardness, phosphorous) and treatment processes (e.g. chemical precipitation, flocculation and settling, sorption, photocatalytic oxidation). Class lectures not only cover experimental approaches, but also used online videos that addressed issues of sustainability. After the videos, students brainstormed on sustainability as it applies to the laboratory experience and were asked to answer questions on sustainability issues at the end of their written lab reports. They are also required to conduct a group project at the end of the semester that takes advantage of the experience gained in the lab and available resources. Though previous classes developed their own projects, a new structure was examined in 2008 which used the stormwater pond as a theme for an overall class project with each of the 20 groups responsible for a unique set of measurements of a unique parameter using techniques learned in class, but not necessarily included as one of the lab experiments. For example, one group used a Quanta HYDROLAB to collect water quality data in the field and pull water samples from each pond. These samples were then analyzed by the various groups for parameters like alkalinity, nutrient concentrations (N, P), hardness, TSS, TDS, and COD. The students shared this information on a class wiki and each group presented their findings at the end of the semester, paying particular attention to describe the experimental technique used since not all students would have had the opportunity to perform the experiment. The final data set was uploaded to the university’s ESW chapter website. This first class project established baseline conditions and subsequent classes will repeat the analyses thereby contributing to a long term monitoring program for the university. Opportunities to interface with other faculty through curriculum and research were explored for a truly integrated project that would include biological sampling and hydraulic measurements.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition on June 14, 2009 in Austin, Texas, 10 p.