When six Harvard College students noticed growing pools of rainwater on campus walkways, instead of hopping over or tiptoeing around them, they set out to fix the problem.
During the spring, the students, as part of their work with the Green Think Initiative, led a successful effort to bring a pair of rain gardens to campus that will help absorb storm water overflow and filter out chemicals and pollutants. They are believed to be the first rain gardens on campus, said Paul Smith, associate manager of Harvard Landscape Services.
“One of the great things about this project is not only is it a good symbol of sustainability, but it is showing that Harvard supports active student movement toward that goal,” said Taisa Kulyk ’22, a member of the Green Think Initiative, a first-year student think tank based at the Harvard Office of Sustainability.
The gardens were recently installed by Harvard Landscape Services in the Leverett House and Mather House courtyards as part of a pilot initiative. Next year, the University hopes to add more of them if they prove effective at flood reduction.
The effort comes at a time when rising temperatures associated with climate change have led to increased rainfall, especially in the Northeast. In 2018, for example, Massachusetts and several nearby states experienced their rainiest year on record.
At Harvard, green spaces, like the Yard, often turn into a series of ponds during prolonged downpours or when drain systems back up. Eventually the water spills onto walkways, turning them into obstacle courses for pedestrians.
The five first-year students from this year’s Green Think Initiative and their sophomore student coordinator sought a solution that was both sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. They launched their rain gardens project.
The recessed gardens use a mix of soil, sand, compost, and mulch that retains water and either releases it slowly into a drain or uses it to feed the native flowers and deep-rooted shrubs planted in each. The gardens also act as a natural filter for many of the pollutants found in stormwater runoff.