"Draining" Water Problems

from A&M's Community

What's the Problem?

Texas A&M University at College Station is wasting valuable energy and potential revenue by not renovating its drainage system, and by not utilizing a form of water capture. Our firm, Jones & Carter, has a solution to propose.

Victor Trujillo

Drainage Shortcomings

The drainage system in place today is not efficient enough to completely meet the needs of the university.

There are many visible signs of this problem throughout A&M's campus. Many areas that both students and staff commute through accumulate large amounts of standing water during storms and even drizzles. Notable examples of areas that are prone to this situation are the highly traversed Academic Plaza and various junctions of the famous Military Walk. These large puddles, which often cut off walking paths during and after rain, are unnecessary hassles to everyone in the vicinity, and require manual labor, as illustrated in the image on the right, to eliminate.

Victor Trujillo

[Image source: www.csmonitor.com]

Minimal Storm Water Control

Here on the A&M campus, the current drainage system contains few storm water retention tanks of the type shown below. Only new buildings are required to have these. According to Alberto Campisano in his article, these containers, most commonly located underground in urban areas, help reduce the accumulation and waste of rainwater while also lowering the chance of flooding when a drainage system begins to become overwhelmed. This missing key element needs to be considered.

Victor Trujillo

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Rising Costs

This inefficiency also brings about a problem that isn’t physically visible: cost. According to the Texas A&M University Utilities Energy Services archive, expenditures associated with the storm drainage system have been on the rise since 2013 and are projected to keep rising in the years to come. The table on the left displays the costs of managing the storm drainage system per square foot from 2013 to 2016. An unwanted upward trend is clearly visible.

Victor Trujillo

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[Image source: www.stormsaver.com]

Draining Opportunity

The lack of a water capture system is letting money-saving rain water go to waste; rooftop runoff would be able to be stored and used with an update in the system. David J. Sample explains in his article how the mechanics of a rainwater harvesting system are not overly complicated. Water is diverted from rooftops and flow into storage tanks where it awaits further use which is shown in the image above. Luis F. Sanches Fernandes, in his article, notes how since rainwater is classified as a both a natural and renewable resource, its application can be even more effective in situations where drinking water is already accounted for. This allows for the resource to be completely taken advantage of in other fields without worrying about providing another source of drinking water.

Texas A&M would be able to alleviate costs by replacing the domestic cold water provided by the City of College Station with harvested rainwater, which is much cheaper to procure, in the areas of on campus irrigation, cleaning services, and waste removal. Storing water on campus could also decrease pumping costs, due to lower travel distance.

The potential benefits of these near self-sustainable rainwater capture systems are not present today. What steps will be needed to rectify the situation?

Victor Trujillo

What's the Cause?


All of the problems we will be solving have natural and artificial causes; our solution targets these. To understand our plan, these must be explained; first, East Texas's patterns of precipitation will be explained.

Texas A&M University, as well as the city of College Station, is no stranger to heavy rain. The primary reason for these occurrences are due to several factors, the most important of those being geography.

Brian Merrell

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[Image source: www.web2.airmail.net]

As is evident from the above map, rainfall increases across the state of Texas as one travels from west to east. College Station, on average, receives 32 to 48 inches per year.
College Station is located at about 30.58°N 96.36°W according to the National Weather Service. The location allows for the city to receive warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, sparking multi-inch rainfall events. Data collected from climate graphs by the National Weather Service show that over the past thirty years, College Station has received above average rainfall for a majority of the years recorded. As shown in the photo below, jet streams keep the majority of cold, dry air in the northern portions of the United States.

Brian Merrell

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[Image source: www.robertscribbler.com]

El Niño, La Niña, and Tropical Storms

College Station is also affected by the coast: by tropical storms and the global circulations, El Niño and La Niña. Because it brings warm moist air over the region, a strong El Niño usually produces wet conditions for the southern United States, especially during winter as shown on the DFW National Weather Service "El Niño and La Niña Information" website. The opposite is true for La Niña, which produces wetter than average conditions during summer. The photo in the upper right shows the exact effects brought on by an El Niño season to the United States. For further information on these events, an article by Air Padre goes into further detail on the effects that El Niño and La Niña bring. In short, any time one of these two, such as the relatively strong El Niño we currently have, are strong enough, Texas experiences more precipitation.

[Image source: www.airpadrekiteboarding.com]

Tropical storms do not affect Texas weather to the degree El Niño and La Niña circulations do. However, current jet streams over the state have caused the majority of incoming tropical storms to primarily impact the southern and southeastern portions of the state. This linked article by the Houston Advanced Research Center, Texas A&M University Galveston, and the NOAA shows the history of hurricane impact on the state. Most hurricanes hitting Texas do pass directly over Brazos County, or at least close enough to bring major precipitation.

Brian Merrell

Soil Quality

Poor soil quality, exacerbated by heavy rainfall, is another direct cause of standing water on campus. Good soil quality allows for the absorption of rainfall, whereas bad soil either creates too much runoff, leading to flooding, or not enough, leading to standing water. Optimal soil composition is 50% pore space and 50% solid material, according to an article written by Assistant Professor Wayne K. Clatterbuck and Horticulturist Donna C. Fare and published by the Texas A&M's Department of Ecosystem Science and Management. The pie chart illustrates the composition of good soil quality, broken down by percents.

[Image source: www.earthsoils.com]

Human interference and disruption can negatively alter the soil quality. Soil is supposed to absorb rainfall as it falls; however, human disturbance can degrade soil, creating poor soil runoff, as described by an article from the Fairfax County Virginia Website.

The regional and man-made factors stated lead to a water situation that requires fixing. Luckily, Jones & Carter has a solution.

Brian Merrell

What's the Solution?

Rooftop Water

In short, Jones & Carter's plan will involve capturing rainwater from rooftops and pavement, for reuse. First is the roof portion; the features detailed are an expansion of those already required in new A&M buildings, as detailed by the Texas Water Resources Institute. First, rooftops will be set up to filter water and reuse it within the building. Water, after hitting the roof, will be channeled into drains and sent through gravel filtration. Once filtered, it will be stored in underground retention tanks, similar to ones described in Drinking Water Engineering & Science, before being sent into the campus's existing water distribution system for common use. Mentioned in Applied Mechanics and Materials is that gravel absorbs a high amount of water, and is inefficient at channeling water into drains. These roofs will not be utilized. The roof material of every single campus building could not be determined at this phase of the plan; however, one currently available example of a suitable roof is that of the Sbisa complex; it is visibly not gravel. This part of the master plan would save water, but not affect campus drainage.

The diagram shown below, created by David Sample for the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering, is a simple representation of the system to be used.

Eliot Guerin

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[Image source: www.ascelibrary.org]

Sidewalk Water

With respect both to drainage and amount of water saved, the more substantial part of our proposed plan will be the segment for paved areas. Drains would be placed in the same way normal storm drains are. Once captured, water would flow through a similar system of filtration as detailed previously, although it would be more intensive, as this rainwater will come in contact with well-worn pavement and pedestrians' shoes. After this, water would be stored in underground tanks and sent into normal campus water pipes when needed. These new drains will be installed both in areas with currently adequate and inadequate drainage.

Once adequately pure and ready for use, reclaimed rainwater from both sources would be used for any non-drinking purpose necessary, including in sinks, toilets, or watering of greenery.

Eliot Guerin

A Bright Future

Bettering drainage and water use capacities at Texas A&M would have a lasting positive effect on many facets of the university. The higher drainage capacity brought by the sidewalk drains will bring the most visible of consequences: less unwanted water. Quicker drainage of standing water will lead to, first of all, a better looking campus. Campus will have a neater look after heavy rain, and both visitors and students will have less puddles to dodge day-to-day. The lifespan of paved areas would be increased as well; in fact, leaving pavement submerged for more than two days can reduce its stability by 25%, as proved in tests by the National Center for Asphalt Technology. Next, reuse of water across the entire plan will reduce the amount of water needed to keep campus running. Less water would be bought from College Station, a slightly lesser demand would be placed on our water supplies, and Texas A&M would simply be wasting less of the resource that falls, literally, from the sky so often. After all, although regionally high rain is the initial cause of these problems, East Texas's water demand is just as extreme. Texas A&M would be a more environmentally responsible university into the future.

[Image source: www.tamu.edu]

The system would be economically optimal as well, due in part to less water having to be used from the city. Also, Texas A&M storm drainage expenses have been increasing. Taking more water from pavement for reuse purposes would reduce the load on the existing system. Finally, Mohammad Shakir's research for Applied Mechanics & Materials showed that a similar system of rainwater reclamation from roofs to the one we plan to use can completely refund its initial cost in 15 years.

Eliot Guerin

What Next?

The problems to be remedied are expensive, and will only become even more severe if not rectified. Jones & Carter offers a cost-effective solution that addresses these problems according to their base causes.

If nothing else, it should be remembered that smarter water use and a better-drained campus will be brought, at a price that, given time, can be refunded by the plan itself. Our firm can be contacted at eliotguerin@jonescarter.com. We hope that a wise decision can be made.

Eliot Guerin

Eliot Guerin


Victor Trujillo


Brian Merrell