UTRGV partnering with Palmhurst for Shary Chapel Municipal Park project
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While rain is usually seen as a cause for delay in most construction projects, engineering students at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley viewed last week’s rains as the opposite of that.
In a partnership between the city of Palmhurst’s stormwater department and UTRGV students, the city will build a bio-retention pond as part of their expansion project for Shary Municipal Park.
The bio-retention system-a manmade trench that will be six to eight feet deep and 40 feet in length with a width of 16 feet-will be used to study rainwater runoff and different types of filtration systems to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff.
“The engineering department will come here and monitor how dirty the water is and the different contaminants in the water.” Palmhurst Planning Director Lupe Garcia said. “We’re creating a giant filtration system.”
The filtration system will work by splitting the bioretention system into different cells where different types of rocks-acting as a filtration system-will be placed. The bioretention system will be placed downhill of the park right in front of the park’s reservoir system, where the runoff water already naturally flows to.
Students will collect rainwater from the top of the hill, which is where the parking lot is, and at the bioretention system to compare the amount of pollutants before and after the stormwater goes through the bioretention system, Garcia said.
“We arrived here earlier and without testing it could tell that the water was full of pollutants,” UTRGV instructor Ahmed Mohmoud said. “The water was brown which is a sign that it’s not the best, probably as a result of fertilizers and pesticides from the orchards and petroleum leakage from the parking lot and fecal matter from stray animals here.”
The collaboration originated from the city and the university being members of the Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Management-a group of several cities and organizations that monitor the quality of water throughout the Valley.
The bioretention system is part of the development the city of Palmhurst is doing for the Shary Municipal Park Project to beautify the area to make it accessible to the public.
First announced two years ago, the city outlined plans for the park located adjacent to the iconic Shary Memorial Chapel which city leaders envisioned as a scenic centerpiece for the small, close-knit community. The development includes building a pavilion, a walking trail and filling up the reservoir to make a lake. Garcia said the project is being done in stages throughout the next several years as budget funds from the city become available. So far the city has completed widening the entrance of the park and adding a parking lot. The next phase is to build restrooms in the park, Garcia said.
The bioretention system, meanwhile, should be built within six weeks, Garcia added.
“The idea is that instead of getting water runoff from the pavement with contaminants is to make a manmade filter system that cleans it before the water goes into the Laguna Madre and our drinking water,” Garcia said. “So it’s a way to be proactive in cleaning our water before it gets to our reservoir and it’ll look like landscape when all is said and done.”
Mohmoud, who is overseeing seven students who are participating in this project, said that besides helping the city of Palmhurst, students will be able to gain real world experiences from the work they put into the project.
“We will have stronger engineers from it for all the experiences they will get from applying the knowledge they already had and from receiving knowledge here in the field.”
Maria Venessa Pruneda, a UTRGV sophomore participating in the project, agreed with her professor.
“This will help me -being out on the field- in the future as I learn how to work to serve my own community,” Pruneda said. “You don’t get this from a class. You can graduate with a degree by being in a class all the time but if you don’t do field work, you won’t be ready.”
This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 13, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.