Federal grant supports Florida research into bio-infiltration solutions

Oct. 3, 2023
A team of researchers from the University of South Florida will partner with Oldcastle Infrastructure to install new bio-infiltration systems to remove nutrient removal.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) has secured a three-year $1.5 million grant from the U.S. EPA to test bio-infiltration methods to reduce water pollution, according to a press release from the university.

Through a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the team is installing a bio-infiltration system at Aaran’s Pond in Tampa’s University Area Community, where more than one in three residents live below the federal poverty level.

The system will prevent pollution from seeping into a local stormwater pond that flows into Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Urban runoff is a challenging problem to address in underserved communities, especially as stormwater ponds are often full of trash and difficult to clean due to restrictive fencing and steep slopes.

“We’re calling them inert zombies due to their lack of life,” said principal investigator Sarina Ergas. “If you look at the difference between a stormwater pond in a wealthy neighborhood and one in a low-income neighborhood — it’s day and night in terms of how they benefit the community.”

The team is partnering with Oldcastle Infrastructure to install four new bio-infiltration systems around the pond to improve nutrient removal. The systems will retain and treat the runoff water with biochar, a charcoal-like material that will help reduce the nutrient pollution and increase microbial activity and plant growth.

Previous studies with biochar have taken place in the lab, making this the first time it’s used in a pond to improve water quality.

The USF team is collaborating with Mary Lusk, a University of Florida expert in stormwater ponds and their functions, to redesign the pond with the Hillsborough County Engineering and Operations Department. The plan is to plant bio-infiltration systems with shrubs and bushes along the steep slopes to provide additional filtration and make the pond more visually appealing.

“We strongly believe the efforts undertaken by this project, along with our collaboration in its implementation, will result in positive, long-term benefits for our community,” said Sarah Combs, chief executive officer of the University Area Community Development Corp., which focuses on the redevelopment and sustainability of at-risk areas surrounding the USF Tampa campus. “As partners, we share in the goal of leveraging resources to improve human and environmental health and the social well-being of residents who live in the community.”