There’s nothing mundane about the new parking lot at the WSU research and extension center in Puyallup. It is a state-of-the-art polluted water collection system. The 70-some parking spots are specially designed to drain the water from each space into separate collection cells.

The project, which broke ground last summer, is an early step in the station’s efforts to become a leader in Low Impact Development techniques, providing guidance for the rapidly developing community along the Puyallup River Valley. In this case, the station will look at how to capture and clean stormwater runoff so that it doesn’t contaminate waterways, damaging salmon runs and polluting Puget Sound.

The station, jointly with the City of Puyallup, received a $1 million research grant from the state Department of Ecology to start the project. The organizers are hoping the scope and quality of the effort will bring in more funding to keep it running. “It’s like we have purchased the Porsche, and one gallon of gas,” says Curtis Hinman, a water resource specialist with WSU Pierce County Extension. “Now we need more to drive it.”

Besides the pervious pavement and collection cells, the project includes several 20×20-foot rain gardens, depressions in the earth where the water will be deposited to see how different plants absorb and handle pollutants. Finally, large containment tanks will hold different mixes of soils to see how the pollutants filter through or are retained. This test site is one of the first of its type and scale in the world.

Though the WSU research station in Puyallup was built more than a century ago to serve the farmers in western Washington, this new project fits the role of the facility, says director John Stark. It’s an experiment station, where the university can “experiment” with new ideas and technology for the benefit of the general public.

“In this area our farming is declining,” he says. And the population is on the rise, so the station is focusing on more urban issues. Storm water runoff from streets and parking lots is a major concern for the local streams and rivers as well as for the Puget Sound. That is why projects like these will focus on environmental toxicology as well as reducing the flow of runoff water. Hopefully someday, he says, more developers and businesses will start using this technology.

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Gallery: Stormwater bio-infiltration swale project by Spokane County and WSU Spokane Extension

On the Web

WSU Puyallup Low Impact Development stormwater program

Washington Department of Ecology stormwater information