Assistant professor recognized for green stormwater infrastructure research


By Tim Schley

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Lauren McPhillips, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Penn State, was recently named a recipient of the 2020 Best Paper Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment.

McPhillips received the award along with two faculty from Cornell University, Christine Goodale, professor of environmental science, and Todd Walter, professor of biological and environmental engineering, for their paper, “Nutrient Leaching and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Grassed Detention and Bioretention Stormwater Basins.”

“I’m honored to receive this award from the leadership of the ASCE Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment,” McPhillips said. “Scholarship around urban water management, particularly more sustainable, nature-based approaches, has exploded in interest, so it’s great to be a part of this momentum.”

According to McPhillips, this research raises some concerns with the use of compost additions meant to aid in plant establishment and other biological processes in green stormwater infrastructure, like bioretention basins. The group found that the addition of the compost potentially could lead to nutrients leaching into stormwater that eventually leaves the basin, degrading the quality of the water.

“Bioretention is still a relatively new technology, and best practices are still evolving,” McPhillips said. “This is something that’s pretty easily corrected with better guidance on the type and quantity of organic matter additions.”

While the findings on nutrient leaching were cautionary in nature, McPhillips noted that the team found encouraging results regarding the emission of greenhouse gases.

“Other forms of undesirable nutrient transformations, such as the biological production of greenhouse gases, were minimal in all of the well-draining basins that we evaluated,” McPhillips said.

McPhillips joined Penn State as an assistant professor in 2018. She received her master’s and doctoral degrees in biological and environmental engineering and her bachelor’s degree in science of earth systems, all from Cornell University.

Before arriving at Penn State, McPhillips worked with the Urban Resilience to Extreme Sustainability Research Network while completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Arizona State University. She also worked as a research associate in the water resources division with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Journal of Sustainable Water in the Built Environment is one of 39 journals published by ASCE. It presents activity and research developments in water issues, challenges and opportunities throughout the developed landscape, according to the ASCE website.


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Megan Lakatos

lauren mcphillips headshot

Lauren McPhillips, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State. IMAGE: PENN STATE