Loyola teaches lakeshore stewardship by example

Aaron Durnbaugh, Loyola’s Director of Sustainability, sits next to a pipe that will release cleaned water from the campus back to Lake Michigan. / Photos by Emily Cikanek, unless otherwise noted.

By Abby Crisostomo

When administrators at Loyola University Chicago set out to plan for the school’s future through a campus-wide master planning process, they identified the university’s environmental impact—both from the people comprising its community and the buildings within its physical footprint—as a critical component of a comprehensive plan. With its main campus set along the shores of Lake Michigan, in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and a university-wide ethic of ecological and social responsibility, it’s natural that Loyola has undertaken a number of sustainability initiatives to benefit not only its own students and faculty, but also the city and region that has been its home for the last century.

One specific example is Loyola’s plan to reduce, by up to 66 percent, the campus’ stormwater contribution to the City of Chicago’s combined sewer system. To do so, the university is using a combination of green and gray infrastructure best management practices at locations across the campus.  For each site, Loyola worked with developers to design an appropriate sequence of methods to allow stormwater to infiltrate into the ground and filter out pollutants as much as possible. Actions include:

  • reducing developed surfaces by combining campus roads and sidewalks into one 20-foot wide surface;
  • laying down 23,600sq. ft. of permeable pavers;
  • installing green roofs on all new buildings; and
  • planting rain gardens and bioswales with native plants.

The green roof atop the Idea Commons uses native plantings to collect rainwater and reduce runoff. Other green rooftops at Loyola produce vegetables for students.

An example of one of these projects is the Center for Sustainable Urban Living, a residence hall and academic building which incorporates an existing building, to be completed in August 2013. The Center will include a 3,000-sq. ft. greenhouse and a recently completed geothermal heating and cooling system – the largest in Chicago.  The Center also will have a cistern to capture stormwater and a greywater system to re-use rain water within the building, for things like watering plants in the rooftop greenhouse. In addition to water reuse, there is a green roof and sustainable café.

Even with green roofs, re-use systems, and other green infrastructure practices, the campus still has a surplus of runoff.  In most instances throughout Chicago and Cook County, a facility’s design would channel this water to the combined sewer system, where it would co-mingle with sewage and additional stormwater.  In heavy rain events, that creates quite a surge of water, often straining the capacity of local sewers (leading to basement back-ups) and the regional sewer (resulting in overflows to our waterways).  However, Loyola isn’t putting its stormwater into the sewer … so, where is it all going?

As water infiltrates the ground on various campus properties, it is channeled into a primary catchment area and held there to settle pollutants and slow flow. The final leg of the water’s journey is to flow to a 30-inch main pipe, where it passes through a hydrodynamic separator — a vortex in a manhole that helps filter out floatables — then discharges through a screen and goes through a baffle wall to further slow flow and settle out finer particles. The final destination of this captured and treated water: Lake Michigan.

At the same time as Loyola developed its campus master plan, Chicago updated its Stormwater Ordinance, which among other things mandates, “In order to maximize the available capacity of the City’s sewers, sites adjacent to Waters must discharge directly to those Waters.” Loyola’s location on the shores of Lake Michigan and the university’s sustainability goals led them to take on the challenge of directing their stormwater to the lake. Keep in mind that in a state of nature, before the reversal of the Chicago River, most of the city’s stormwater runoff flowed to the lake.  After more than a 100 years of building the city’s infrastructure to do just the opposite, only facilities immediately on the lakefront  – including Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, McCormick Place, and the southern portion of Lake Shore Drive – are feasibly close enough to build their own systems to return stormwater to its natural destination.

The construction of a green house, which is set to reuse treated gray water from the campus to increase water efficiency.

Loyola partnered with engineering firm SmithGroupJJR to develop the campus stormwater plan. JJR worked with the City to apply the updated requirements to their plan. “The City has been good to work with. They let us bring in our overall design concept, but then implement in phases with no real hurdles,” said Bill Wood, one of the civil engineers at JJR who worked on Loyola’s plan. “They were helpful and open-minded with incorporating the new ordinance changes. They would tell us the intent of the code, then see how our plans met the intent.” Loyola and JJR’s plan ultimately exceeded the code requirements.

Not only did they have to meet city regulations, but discharges to Lake Michigan also face strong water quality requirements by the State of Illinois. The time it took to get the plan approved by both the Ill. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources was one of the biggest challenges. The approval process took more time than they had budgeted in the construction schedule, but the water quality models JJR developed to show the efficiencies of the system were helpful to prove how the plan met necessary thresholds for each pollutant.

The final pipe to Lake Michigan was connected in summer 2010, and contractors will tie in each project component as it comes online. The first phase of the system currently accommodates 50 percent of the planned capacity, and they’ve also built in contingent capacity for future growth: an 8,300 cubic foot underground cistern for future development with an “open bottom,” a stone layer with geotextile that allow for a lot of infiltration so the whole thing can be emptied out in fewer than 36 hours. JJR is working on a monitoring system to quantify the benefits, though since there was no monitoring in place at the start of the project, there is no baseline for comparison.

Excavation and setting trench box before cleaned water is returned to Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of Loyola University Chicago.

Through these efforts, 35 percent—or roughly 10 million gallons, which is equivalent to the average annual water use of 79 households—of Loyola’s stormwater currently bypasses Chicago’s combined sewer system, with another 8 million gallon planned by 2015. This means less water assaulting Chicago’s already over-capacity sewers (and hopefully fewer combined sewer overflow events as a result), less money and energy spent by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to treat clean stormwater, less water counting against Illinois’ 2.1 billion gallon per day diversion of Lake Michigan water,  and less water contributing to local flooding and basement backups.

“By sending our water back to the lake, we’re not only helping the city and the state, we’re helping our neighbors, too,” said Loyola’s Director of Sustainability, Aaron Durnbaugh.

Loyola is changing all its new walkways and driveways to permeable pavers, which will allow rainwater to soak into the ground instead of becoming runoff. Photo: Mark Beane.

Durnbaugh is leading the charge to put this and the several other sustainability initiatives into action at Loyola’s many campuses (the main campus in Rogers Park, the Water Tower Campus, the Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., a campus in Rome, Italy), as well as its new 100-acre Retreat & Ecology Center in McHenry County. Though he has only been at Loyola since February, Durnbaugh came to the school with experience in green infrastructure and stormwater issues, as well as lessons learned from his prior position leading the Natural Resources and Water Quality division as Deputy Commissioner of Environment for the City of Chicago.

The University has been making significant advancements on these and many other sustainability efforts under the leadership of their President, Father Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. In addition to the infrastructure improvements, Durnbaugh also oversees a range of sustainability initiatives, such as:

  • a campus biodiesel production company that creates fuel and soap from waste fryer oil;
  • a ban on bottled water initiated by student groups; and
  • a committee that reviews the university endowment’s investments to align them with their environmental and Jesuit ethics priorities.

Loyola is doing its part to turn mission into actions while staying focused on providing high quality Jesuit education for its students. Loyola also partners with the Metropolitan Planning Council to provide University Assisted Housing and Commute Options, programs that help employees find affordable housing near the university and more sustainable commutes to work.

“Loyola is committed to doing the right thing, and with all the benefits of these sustainability initiatives, the decision to do that is not difficult,” says Durnbaugh. “Sustainability goes beyond just infrastructure changes, but also academics and culture.”

The WOWW Factor


Area in square feet of green roofs on Loyola’s campus, almost tripled from 2006


Inches of rain in an hour that Chicago’s storm sewers are designed to accommodate.(That’s a 5-year rain event, which means it has 20 percent chance of happening each year.)


Square miles of land in Illinois that would, by nature, drain back into Lake Michigan. However, only 88 square miles of land actually drains back into the Lake, as a result of engineering that reversed the Chicago River.

Conservation Tips

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6 Responses to Loyola teaches lakeshore stewardship by example

  1. Pingback: Loyola University has great sustainability programs in place | What is Fracking | Contamination of Water | Angel Water

  2. Rick Shepherd says:

    Wow, great dedication to conservation and sustainability. Yet another reason I’m proud to be an employee of LUC. Our Wellness Center is doing its part to be environmentally friendly. Last semester we initiated a recycling and sustainability program.

    • chicagolandh2o says:

      Thanks for your comment, Rick. We like working with Loyola, too, and are happy to feature some of the great work that’s happening there.

  3. Pingback: Sustainability Knowledge among College Students « Great Lakes Bioneers Chicago

  4. Hey, thanks for such an inspiring initiative. I wonder if Loyola would (or maybe already does) host a tour of these sites? I would be interested and I can think of several other Evanstonians who would be as well.

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