BAC Grad Pursues Passion for Stormwater Management

Jennifer Stevenson, MDS ’16, explores low impact development with Somerville as backdrop

Jennifer Stevenson. Photo courtesy of Jennifer.

Recent BAC grad Jennifer Stevenson has made it her mission to learn and educate others about design approaches that can help manage stormwater runoff. A local resident of Somerville, MA, Jennifer, who recently graduated with a Master of Design Studies in Sustainable Design, is exploring ways to effectively manage the potential negative impacts of stormwater runoff in the Boston area and beyond. She started this journey with her final degree project at the BAC, which explored how implementing low impact development (LID) principles and practices can manage water in a way that reduces the impact of the built environment and promotes the natural movement of water within an ecosystem.

Stormwater has become an issue that is increasingly affecting people's lives and the environment. While stormwater typically flows into the ground or to surface waters for recharge and filtering, more and more development has created impermeable surfaces, like pavement, that prevent these processes.

"Access to fresh water is already a crisis," explained Jennifer. "The more we can plan for bigger populations with less water to go around, the better. Getting the right infrastructure in place to treat stormwater as a resource will be key for that paradigm shift we need."

Jennifer's final degree project, which she completed at the BAC last fall, completely transformed the traditional view of stormwater as a nuisance-something that should be washed away in the storm drain. Instead, Jennifer explored the idea of stormwater as an asset, highlighting how when treated, it can help mitigate the urban heat island effect, conserve water, replenish aquifers, and even save energy.

Somerville is the backdrop for all of Jennifer's research, due to her familiarity with it and the flooding issues it experiences during and after rain. The city's existing infrastructure was designed a long time ago and was not intended to serve as many people as it does now.

"In Somerville, when it rains and the water mixes with sewage in our combined sewer overflow system, it can back up into our rivers and roads," explained Jennifer. "Redesigning and implementing an entirely new infrastructure system is not feasible, so that's why minimizing the amount of runoff going to the stormdrain is so important."

Throughout her project, Jennifer highlighted Somerville as a prime candidate for LID, acknowledging of course that obstacles do still exist.

"If everyone undertook one LID project on their property, like disconnecting their downspouts, adding a rain garden, or depaving their yards, Somerville would be more aesthetically attractive, we would all feel the benefits of more greenery around us, and most importantly, we would be handling water responsibly," explained Jennifer. "By setting the example that there is a right and wrong way to treat our natural resources, we are instilling those values in our children, who will in turn pass it along to future generations. It's about trying to create a positive feedback loop with regards to water."

Although Jennifer's capstone is now in the past, her work revolving around stormwater is far from complete. She is active in Somerville Climate Action, a grassroots collaborative that is working on putting together recommendations for the city ahead of its massive zoning overhaul; Jennifer is focusing on the water portion of the group's recommendations. She is also collaborating with architecture firm SMMA ahead of the Somerville High School renovation, specifically regarding any techniques that could be used within the limited space to prevent any stormwater runoff from the site.

Jennifer was recently quoted in a local magazine, Scout Somerville. Check it out here.