CLEMSON — The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) announced the selection of the Clemson University Sand River Headwaters Green Infrastructure Project in Aiken as one of the landscapes participating in a new program testing the nation’s first rating system for green landscape design, construction and maintenance.

The project joins the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and other projects, including academic and corporate campuses, public properties and private residences.

The Sand River Headwaters Green Infrastructure Project was designed by Clemson University's Center for Watershed Excellence in partnership with the city of Aiken. The South Carolina Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health and Environmental Control are participating in the project. The engineering firm Woolpert Inc. is handling the construction.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden.

The Sand River Headwaters Green Infrastructure Project will join 174 other pilot projects from 34 states, Canada, Iceland and Spain as part of an international pilot program to evaluate the new SITES rating system for sustainable landscapes, with and without buildings. Sustainable landscapes can clean water, reduce pollution and restore habitats while providing economic and social benefits to landowners and municipalities.

More than a dozen medians in downtown Aiken are being reconfigured to capture and treat stormwater. Bioretention areas made up of rain gardens and bioswales will collect runoff and allow the water to infiltrate through a special bioretention soil mix, reducing pollutants and the amount of water leaving the downtown area.

Downtown streets and parking lots are being reconstructed with pervious concrete and asphalt, which will absorb larger amounts of rainfall. Pervious surfaces allow water to pass through, thereby reducing runoff and recharging groundwater.

The project will be ongoing throughout 2010. It is being paid for with a $3.3 million federal grant from the Department of Health and Environmental Control under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with research funded separately by the city of Aiken.

“These best management practices enhance nature’s capacity to absorb stormwater and provide both economic and environmentally sound approaches to reduce stormwater flows that are impacting Sand River, Hitchcock Woods and other downstream impaired waters,” said Gene Eidson, project leader and director of the restoration ecology focus area and the Center for Applied Ecology in the Clemson University Restoration Institute.

Like the other pilot projects, the site will test a system for achieving different levels of site sustainability on a 250-point scale and the performance benchmarks associated with the Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009.

The organization will use feedback from the projects during the pilot phase, which runs through June 2012, to revise the final rating system and reference guide by early 2013.
The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an interdisciplinary partnership to transform land-development and management practices with the nation's first voluntary rating system for sustainable landscapes.