Responsible rainwater management was a top priority when we designed the Welcome Center at Ryerson Woods. Planned as a model of green architecture, the site makes use of several innovative, environmentally friendly strategies for resource management. A three-pronged approach helps keep storm water at the site from becoming floodwater. Learn more »
Strategy 1: Collect It
Beneath the Welcome Center lies a swimming-pool-sized cistern, a cement tank that holds rainwater collected from the rooftop. Pipes connect the roof gutters to the cistern, which stores up to 60,000 gallons of rainwater for the fire protection sprinkler system. The harvested rainwater is wise insurance in case of fire, but we realized it could also be tapped for another, more mundane purpose: flushing our public toilets.
Strategy 2: Store It
Hard surfaces of parking lots usually redirect rain into catch basins or storm sewers. We wanted to be innovative with our parking lot. After researching many options that would allow water to flow through the surface, not over it, we chose porous asphalt for the surface of the parking lot.
Though the look of the surface is similar to standard asphalt, the recipe for the asphalt is significantly different. Standard asphalt is a mixture of a black gooey liquid, small rocks and particles of sand, grit and dust. These tiny particles help to bind the mixture together after it is laid and rolled. Recipes for porous asphalt read differently: thoroughly wash gravel, mix with black gooey liquid, roll lightly. The result is asphalt that contains small spaces between the gravel pieces. These spaces are large enough to allow water to flow through. Water from rain and melted snow doesn’t puddle on the surface, it simply disappears.
Strategy 3: Absorb It
Two rain gardens handle any remaining storm water. Each rain garden has a depression that collects rainwater from the roof of the building. Before planting, the soil in the rain gardens was modified to drain quickly. Water seldom sits more than 36 hours in the rain garden before it is absorbed. The gardens are planted with native palnts that are adapted to thrive in great variety of weather conditions in northern Illinois. Consequently, they require no special treatment. Their blossoms add color to the gardens starting in spring and ending in late autumn. The butterflies and birds that come to visit are an added bonus.
Part of what makes these approaches so successful is that they allow nature's processes to take care of the natural ebb and flow of the water cycle. Our long-time goal is to manage land along the Des Plaines River. Backwater areas and wetlands near the river help to hold excess water. When the river level lowers, the wetlands slowly release the water back into the stream, often in a more pure state. Restored wetlands throughout the county are efficient at water storage. Not only can these habitats help to reduce local flooding, but they also help to recharge the groundwater aquifer. This is good news for areas of Lake County that rely on wells for drinking water.
A seismic recording station is installed at Ryerson to help research scientists gain a better understanding of our planet’s structure and processes. It's one of 2,000 USArray stations installed across the country as part of the National Science Foundation’s EarthScope initiative.