Swale project transforming campus stormwater

Environmental, Sound Rivers, Stormwater, Stormwater Issues, Stormwater Restoration Projects, Stormwater Runoff

Posted on February 3rd, 2022

Gabe Adams (left) and Chris Wheeler (right) study the outlet and newly dug swale on the Nash Community College campus. The two men are project leads with Backwater Environmental.

Nash Community College’s campus continues to be transformed with stormwater in mind.

The latest project is the nearly completed restoration of swale that’s instrumental in steering water to the right place, at the right rate.

So, what’s a swale? You might think of it as a ditch that’s shaped with certain ratios in mind to both contain rainwater and funnel it in the right direction. According to Sound Rivers Environmental Projects Coordinator Clay Barber, swales are one of the most common stormwater solutions out there, though they don’t get all that much attention.

The key to a good swale is providing enough space to slow down the water, which is what the previous swale was lacking.

“It’s not designed to retain water like our rain gardens do; it’s just for conveyance. The one they had was undersized. This one, the bottom of the channel is five feet wide, so it holds a lot of water and can spread it out and the water shouldn’t move so fast,” Clay said. “Anytime water is moving so fast it cuts away at the dirt, it causes sediment pollution.”

And sediment pollution can fill in creeks, ponds and swamps, which in turn can amplify flooding issues and impact aquatic species.

The swale leads from two directions to an outlet that runs beneath a campus road to a pond on the other side, and is responsible for draining water from at least part of the college’s disc golf course. The outlet is lined with rock, called riprap.

“That rock is there to reduce as much flow velocity as possible and to protect the soil around the pipe,” Clay said.

Unlike the two rain garden projects under construction at the campus, the swale will be sodded, not planted with native species. But it still seems to attract plenty of birds — a plus for a campus recognized as an American Tree and Bee Campus.

Funded by the Canon Foundation and through a Sound Rivers’ North Carolina Environmental Enhancement Grant, about a year after construction is complete, the projects will be handed over to the school for maintenance. Clay said the team at Nash Community College is exactly what Sound Rivers is looking for in partners.

“The campus staff and administration and grounds crews — at Nash we have a group of very supportive and enthusiastic people who understand our values at Sound Rivers and understand the design and need for this,” he said.

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