Image: Rai Tokuhisa (Master's Student, Hydraulics and Water Resources Engineering) replaces the batteries on one of the gauges that are part of the Coral Ridge Avenue Stormwater Project on June 11, 2016. Photo: Nick Fetty (Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, University of Iowa) [Click image to enlarge]
Rai Tokuhisa is a master's student studying hydraulics and water resources engineering at the University of Iowa. As part of her research, Tokuhisa collects data and water samples from the the Coral Ridge Avenue Stormwater Project to gauge the effectivenes of the recently installed bioswales at the site. This project falls within the Clear Creek Watershed, which is one of thee watersheds studied in the Intensively Managed Landscapes-Critical Zone Observatory.
Tokuhisa recently sat down with us to discuss her research and her work on the Coral Ridge Avenue Storm Water Projects.
You studied civil and environmental engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Iowa and now as a graduate student you're studying hydraulics and water resources engineering. What drew you to this particular field?
My first choice for postsecondary education was service to my country at the United States Naval Academy. I thank my teenage self for being so (too?) fiesty--I now have the opportunity to serve my community in a different framework. I chose water resources because it makes my heart sing, and I don't feel selfish for indulging. They say the third world war will be fought over water; I'd like it to not come to that.
You have been studying the Coral Ridge Avenue Stormwater Project as part of your thesis research. Tell us a bit about this project, your role in it, and your findings thus far.
The City of Coralville retrofitted the stormwater infrastructure for this road when they assumed responsibility from the Iowa DOT for (formerly) Highway 965, which is now Coral Ridge Avenue. This is kind of unheard of--the spatial scales aren't unreasonable, but the watershed is nearly all impervious with high-intensity traffic--so there's a lot of runoff and it can be pretty nasty. If the design succeeds in this setting, it could be applied to other high-intensity roadways.
I've been responsible for calibrating, installing, and maintaining the field monitoring equipment. My thesis work is processing the data for observed infiltration volumes, changes in effluent temperature, and characterizing the pollutant load. In this first year, we've really thrown everything at it so that we can hone in on what are feasible long-term properties we can track.
Much like the CZO is a collaboration of various universities and other governmental agencies, the Coral Ridge Avenue Stormwater project is also a collaboration of both state and local government agencies as well as engineering firms and other entities from the private sector. How do you think such collaboration benefits a project like this?
The interdisciplinary and inter-agency collaboration brings different lenses for viewing the same issue. This benefits the rhetoric-building tools that each of us have--at the end of the day, watershed improvement is a community-level effort. We (developers, engineers, scientists, land-stewards, politicians...) need to be able to communicate the importance from multiple perspectives if we're ever going to get everyone on board.
What are your plans for after you graduate later this summer?
Knock on wood, I graduate August 5th. I will pursue a career in engineering consulting. One specific career goal is to obtain my professional engineering license. It's a 4-year process. One personal goal is to reroute my rooftop runoff into a storage and drip-irrigation system for my garden at home. Right now I collect it in 5-gallon buckets and dump it manually. The rhubarb doesn't mind so much but the strawberries don't like that kind of inelegance.
Anything else that I haven't touched on that you want to address?
I think that it's difficult initially to see how our personal choices affect the health of our waterways and how those choices propagate back to us. We're frustrated when those impacts limit us, but can't see the thread leading back to our past behaviour and expectations.
The first chief hydrologist at the United States Geological Survey--Luna Leopold--framed our duty to unify the front between water science, ethics, and stewardship: "Man’s engineering capabilities are nearly limitless. Our economic views are too insensitive to be the only criteria for judging the health of the river organism. What is needed is a gentler basis for perceiving the effects of our engineering capabilities. This more humble view of our relation to the hydrologic system requires a modicum of reverence for rivers."
If I could make a request, one human to another: to imagine the repercussions of any 15 seconds of your day beyond what it represents on your to-do list. It doesn't have to be in reverence for rivers; In summation, the consideration that occurs in each pause is the first step towards any flavor of progress.
By Nick Fetty (Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, University of Iowa)
As part of her research, Rai Tokuhisa (Master's Student, Hydraulics and Water Resources Engineering) regularly records measurements and takes water samples to gauge the effectiveness of the bioswale at the Coral Ridge Avenue Stormwater Project in Coralville, Iowa.