The Donald E. Davis Arboretum is home to more than 500 species of native-Alabama plants. Many factors work to sustain the plant life in the arboretum, including sunlight and nutrients from the soil. Perhaps most important to plant survival, however, is water. Vegetation at the arboretum receives water from a variety of sources, including irrigation, and, most often, rainfall. While rainfall is a much needed resource for plant life, it can also be a destructive force on ecosystems, resulting in erosion and even death.
In an effort to educate the public on best practices for handling stormwater in the landscape, the arboretum installed an 11-stop stormwater tour. The tour takes participants through the arboretum landscape while highlighting features that deal with stormwater management.
"We've had a lot of these practices already in place at the arboretum for some time, but they were not interpreted in any way so that people could see what's being done. So we developed this stormwater tour," said Dee Smith, curator of the arboretum. "Some of the stops describe water capture, and some are about controlling the flow of water."
The tour demonstrates non-traditional methods for dealing with stormwater, such as utilizing pervious surfaces.
"Traditionally, landscapes use impervious surfaces such as asphalt that do not allow any water penetration into the ground. The water runs off these surfaces and can cause serious erosion issues." said Smith. "There are alternatives, such as pervious concrete and pervious asphalt, that will allow water to percolate through the surface."
The stormwater tour also highlights the arboretum's use of water tanks in the landscape, as the facility has a 1,700-gallon, above-ground tank and a 1,400-gallon, below-ground tank. The tour educates the public on methods that will slow, trap and channel water in a landscape through the use of features such as swales, rain gardens and dry stream beds. Examples are also provided of how stormwater, when not properly managed, is destructive.
"One of the things that negatively affects our pond is all the silt and sediment that is carried into the pond with the stormwater, filling it up. And the water can potentially carry pollutants like chemicals, oils and trash that end up in the pond and can be deadly for wildlife," said Smith.
Patrick Thompson, arboretum specialist, said the tour is designed to inspire people to employ better, more sustainable practices on their own landscapes, resulting in a healthier watershed.
"Water in the arboretum goes to Chewacla Creek, the Saugahatchee River, the Tallapoosa River and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico," explained Thompson. "Efforts we take locally affect our downstream neighbors. We need to keep our watersheds healthy so that we will have good water to drink and grow."
The stormwater tour also provides a learning tool for students at Auburn University.
"Our students love hands-on programs and classes where they can actually get outdoors and get involved with the immediate environment and see what's happening around campus," said Nanette Chadwick, director of academic sustainability programs. "Many of our students will go into careers where they will actually be planning landscapes, planning buildings, working as city planners, and other jobs where they will be directly involved with trying to support water sustainability in cities. We even have an art professor whose students took the tour and are learning to use art in connection with the environment to teach people. The arboretum is really one of our shining examples on campus of a spot where the resources are being managed very well, very sustainably, and these are the practices we teach our students are important for supporting a natural water cycle."
The stormwater tour is self-guided and open to the public. To take the tour, participants should first stop by the pavilion at the arboretum and pick up a map. Each stop on the tour also includes QR codes that can be scanned with a smartphone, providing more information about each stormwater feature.
"We are a great testing ground for seeing how these kinds of practices work," said Smith. "By having the tour and explaining our practices, we hope people will take home the message that there are other ways to deal with stormwater than the traditional methods."
For more information on the tour or to download the map, visit the arboretum website.