UBC Undergraduate Research

An investigation into south campus storm water catchment and filtration technology Horkoff, Carlin; Lejay, Marc; Chan, Abraham; Liu, Meng-Chi (Andy)


The aim of the sustainability project is to introduce new practices, ideas, or designs, or to modify existing ones, with the end goal of creating a more sustainable campus environment. Our team is working on the implementation of a south campus storm water catchment and filtration technology on UBC campus; its main use would be to recycle storm water from Wesbrook Village for use in crop irrigation at the UBC farm. Storm water is a term used to define water that originates from precipitation. Though plentiful in many developed nations, water is still a valuable commodity, and its proper use and management is fundamental in sustainable practice. As the scope of the project is large, we have decided to focus our attention towards filtration systems – three types in particular. To determine the potential risks and benefits of implementing a filtration technology, we use a triple-bottom-line analysis to investigate the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the three systems studied: Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) water filtration unit, bioretention areas, and constructed wetlands. There are three categories of storm water treatment systems – decentralized, semicentralized, and centralized – differentiated by where filtration occurs after storm water catchment. Fully centralized systems filter the water at one main site, whereas decentralized systems filter immediately after catchment; semi-centralized systems are a mix of the two, and each of the filtration systems studied could be altered to fit into any one of these three categories. The standard, technology-based water filtration unit at CIRS is the first system investigated. It has a relatively small footprint and has the least amount of social concerns among the systems studied – most of the concerns stem from people’s misconception of storm water as waste water. The system at present is not economic given the low cost of water in the Lower Mainland, though another analysis may be done in the future given the current rising price of water. Overall, however, the system shows potential for use at the farm. The second and third systems studied are bioretention areas and constructed wetlands respectively; both of these systems utilize natural means of filtration by using environmental conditions, soil, and vegetation. Because of the use and construction of natural vegetation or habitats, minimal environmental disturbance is produced – the systems could also potentially improve environmental conditions by providing food and shelter for certain organisms. People have expressed concerns about the use of these natural systems, though; one downside would be the build-up of pollutants which are visible to the public. Having stated that, cost is another issue faced with these types of systems, given their inherently dynamic and situation-dependent nature. In documents from 2009, it was discovered that UBC already had plans to build natural filtration systems – CK Choi was the first building to do so. Thus, it is possible that the proper infrastructure is already in place. Ultimately, the use of natural filtration fits with the university’s image of sustainability and advancement, so further research on these systems is recommended. Having examined three different treatment systems and using the information we have obtained, we could conclude that a centralized system would be the best choice as the infrastructure for water catchment is already in place in Wesbrook. Though the CIRS system had greater social acceptance, natural filtration is likely more environmentally sustainable in the long-term. All three systems studied have their benefits and drawbacks, and no single system was deemed to be significantly better than the others. We recommend that further studies be done in the future to reach a conclusive decision on the most appropriate filtration system for crop irrigation at the UBC farm. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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