University of Louisville is working with Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) on a variety of green infrastructure projects to help keep storm water runoff out of the combined sewer system. In the past, every raindrop that hit U of L’s rooftops (over 2.2 million square feet on Belknap campus alone) and pavements was channeled into the same sewer system that handles sewage. The University has three campuses. The 287-acre Belknap Campus is three miles from downtown Louisville and houses seven of the university’s 12 colleges and schools. The sewer system can potentially handle storm water from U of L, but the treatment plants at the end of the pipe often cannot. This leads to unsavory conditions, as well as, dangerous releases of untreated sewage into the Ohio River, which poses a threat to human health and ecological integrity. The University has pursued means of lessening the risk of flood and reducing the campus’ contribution to the problem by diverting storm water from the sewer system all together, through infiltration and rainwater harvesting projects, or by slowing its release through water absorbing changes to the campus landscape. Around campus, there are disconnected downspouts, installed vegetated green roofs, and built rain gardens and bioswales to facilitate groundwater recharge through infiltration.
In recent years, U of L made several changes to campus landscaping, parking lots and rooftops, with the help of $1.25 million in cost-sharing from the Metropolitan Sewer District. This year, MSD confirmed that U of L’s projects are diverting about 72 million gallons of storm water every year. This significant investment will essentially pay for itself by helping prevent millions of dollars in future flood damage. MSD’s investment in Belknap campus storm water projects is part of an $850 million agreement that MSD made in federal court with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state regulators to reduce the incidence of combined sewer overflows into waterways during storm events.