Over the last 25 years Penn State has reduced its annual water use by 25%, while adding 10,000 students and 8M sq. ft. of building space. These reductions were achieved through conservation programs that installed low-flow fixture, and the reduction of potable water use in once-through cooling and process applications.

The Living Filter

Treated effluent from Penn State’s wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) has been land-applied year round at sprayfields since 1983 rather than stream-discharged. An estimated 90% of the irrigated water recharges the region’s water table—about 1.7 MGD, over 500 million gallons per year. The land application of treated wastewater helps to maintain base flows in streams such as Spring Creek and reduces the impacts of drought conditions. Penn State’s WWTP has not discharged to Thompson Run since 1983, and is thought to be one of the many reasons that the water quality of Spring Creek is considered to be better now than any time in the last 100 years. Oversight of the sprayfields operation is managed by the Waste Water Management Committee, a multi-disciplined committee made up of researchers from across the University. Research completed by this committee is transmitted via trade journals and research publications to advance the knowledge base on wastewater treatment plant and sprayfield operation.

Water Resources Preservation

The University has established a Water Resources Preservation (WRP) land-use classification for approximately 455 acres of its land at University Park. These areas indicated on the map at the right in blue, include natural infiltration areas where stormwater is renovated and recharged. Examples of these protected areas include the area in front of the Penn State Arboretum, the Millbrook Marsh, and the recharge area along Fox Hollow Road, where low head weirs have been constructed to encourage ground water recharge through the thick soil mantle and into the groundwater aquifer.

Net-Zero Discharge

The University overall is a net zero discharger of surface runoff in large part due to the protected WRP lands. In other words, more runoff from University and non-University areas is recharged on the University’s property than runoff from the University that is discharged off-University areas.

Source Water Protection

Penn State completed the first Source Water Protection Plan in the region.

Reuse Water Planning

Penn State has masterplanned a Campus Reuse System for University Park that could reduce groundwater withdrawals by 300,000 to 500,000 GPD. It has started to install the distribution piping system one pipe section at a time as opportunities present themselves. And it is designing the interior plumbing systems of selected building projects for ease of reuse connection in the future. In summary, 24,000 feet of future reuse piping has been installed, nearly 5 miles, over the past 8 years.

Stormwater Infrastructure

  • Three acres of Green Roofs
  • Penn State pioneered the concept of low head weirs (first constructed along Fox Hollow Road) to encourage ground water recharge through the thick soil mantle and into the groundwater aquifer. Penn State currently has nine LHW’s placed strategically around the University Park campus.
  • Three rain harvesting systems used for irrigation or flushing toilets
  • Dozens of bioswale and raingardens
  • Approximately 70 detention control facilities to reduce peak discharges downstream
  • Floating trash rack at the Duck Pond and other specialized trash racks
  • Dozens of stormwater water quality BMPs such as oil/water separators, Continuous Deflection Separators, and natural treatment areas

Millbrook Marsh

The Millbrook Marsh is still owned by Penn State but was leased to the Centre Region Recreation Authority in 1996 for the creation of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center for the benefit of the community, and a conservation easement was granted to Clearwater Conservancy in 2001 for the protection of the significant water resources of this area.

Reducing Runoff

The University has adopted a fundamental philosophy that it will not simply increase storm drain pipe sizes to solve localized flooding problems at University Park because such actions are counterproductive to the goals of the University and result in pushing more flooding downstream (flood transference) to both University and non-University properties. Instead, all new development and redevelopment projects at the University have the goal of reducing peak runoff rates downstream.

Stream Bank Restoration

  • Cross vanes installed along Slab Cabin Run to enhance flood plain connection.
  • Worked with the community to stabilize stream banks on University property such as at the sheep barn
  • Space is provided for the growing native program, which grows plants for other stream bank projects not on University property. This space has been provided for the last seven years.
  • Currently working to stabilize erosion in the conveyance channel above the duck pond

MS4 Partnership

The University developed a partnership with the local municipal MS4 permit holders (College, Ferguson, Harris, and Patton Townships, and the State College Borough) to provide continuous education and public participation on stormwater to the community.