UC Berkeley group wins Environmental Protection Agency award, champions sustainability

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Nate Kauffman/Courtesy

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Campus students, from undergraduates to doctoral students, won first place in the Master Plan category of the Environmental Protection Agency’s, or EPA’s, sixth annual Campus RainWorks Challenge for developing a plan that could restore the Strawberry Creek watershed’s water quality.

The RainWorks Challenge is a national collegiate competition that tasks students passionate in environmentalism to “design innovative solutions for stormwater pollution,” according to the EPA’s online announcement of winners, released April 26.

The team’s project, titled (Re)Generations, includes a timeline spanning until the year 2100, by the end of which it aims to capture 100 percent of the university’s stormwater runoff.

“We don’t do this arbitrarily; we do this because were genuinely interested in improving the campus community,” said Nate Kauffman, team lead and campus doctoral student.

As someone who has seen the creek “in lots of states, from bone-dry (to) rushing,” Kauffman said he finds it to be an interesting campus feature that is worthy of preservation. He added that the two branches of the creek that converge on campus contribute greatly to the nature of the community.

According to Kauffman, the project began with students going into the campus and observing, in person, the Strawberry Creek watershed environment. If implemented, a key impact the project will have is removing pollutants in Strawberry Creek.

“We had them do on-the-ground mapping and surveying and sketching, looking for the flow of people,” Kauffman said. “We moved from that kind of personal observation research to a huge map of campus, and students put flags and strings all over the map.”

Based on those observations, students worked to create a set of interventions for their project. These interventions include retrofitting buildings with blue roofs, replacing concrete with permeable pavement and converting 5 acres to oak woodland, according to the EPA’s website.

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Kauffman noted that community involvement would be necessary, and though the team included methods of encouraging it in the plan, it would have to be guaranteed for long-term success.

“Even if we rebuilt campus the way we’re proposing, if you don’t have community members and the city working to help stormwater systems off campus … you can only have so much of an impact,” Kauffman said.

Other roadblocks to implementation include getting campus approval and getting access to the necessary financial resources, according to Kauffman.

UC Berkeley Director of Sustainability Kira Stoll said she was excited to see the team gain recognition on a national level for its work.

“We need lots of future-facing thinking and ideas to think about our next 150 years,” Stoll said. “A great next step for us (would be) to have the team share their findings and their plan with some stakeholders on campus.”

Contact Sri Medicherla at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sri_medicherla.

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