The Willow School is a proud recipient of the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the water resources category. The Award recognizes Willow for demonstrating a positive influence in the following areas:
- Improving surface or ground water quality
- Ensuring sufficient quantities of water through reuse and conservation techniques
- Promoting or developing progressive land use policies
- Watershed management approaches to improve protection of surface and groundwater sources
Why Willow was Chosen:
By capturing, treating, and reusing our rooftop rainwater, we are alleviating the strain put on the public utilities during storm events. We are also reducing our demand on the public water system by using storm-water to flush our toilets. The USGS estimated that in the late 20th century, New Jersey residents used 1.68 billion gallons of surface water per day and 560 million gallons of groundwater per day.
By utilizing low flow fixtures and flushing mechanisms, we have reduced our water demand significantly.
- Toilets 2.5 gallons per flush
- Urinals: 1.0 gallons per flush
- Faucets: 2.0 gpm at 60 psi
- Residential sinks 2.5 gpm
Our campus, has 22 toilets, 2 urinals, 29 faucets, and 8 residential sinks.
Percentage reduction in domestic use:
- 100% reduction in flush fixtures, because this is gray water NOT potable water
- 32% reduction in flow fixtures
Percentage reduction in irrigation: we do not irrigate
Our constructed wetlands provide simple and effective waste-water treatment. They can be used to treat domestic, agricultural, industrial and mining waste-waters. Their construction costs are much less (50 to 90%) than conventional systems and their operating costs are very low (Purdue Engineering). As waste-water flows through our system, the suspended solids and trace metals filter out when they settle. Organisms that live in the wetland water, rocks, soil, and stems and roots of plants use these organic materials and nutrients (our waste) as food. Plants provide much of the oxygen needed by the organisms to live and grow. Plant roots keep the rocks or soil loose so that water can flow through easily. Once water is cleaned by our wetlands, it returns to the water table, recharging groundwater levels.
Additionally, each year since it’s creation, The Willow School has had its students do a water health survey. The species found in these invertebrate studies indicate good water quality on site because they are extremely sensitive to changes in nutrient levels and temperature.
Our storm-water management plan includes reuse of captured and treated roof rainwater, bioswales, groundwater infiltration, and the constructed wetland. Our dynamic design allows the landscape to recover quickly by working with both small and large amounts of storm-water, as opposed to a conventional system that may overflow into natural waterways during storm events and depends solely on infrastructure to treat runoff and all the contaminants it picks up. A conventional system must be designed for the larger predictable storm events, and so disallows replenishment of the natural systems by demanding concrete curbing and sewers.
In order to comply with best practices for watershed and land management, our landscape consists of New Jersey native grasses, perennials and shrubs such as: hostas, turtleheads, willow trees, chestnut trees, maple trees, rudbeckia, eastern redbuds, summersweet clethera, crabapple trees, blackhaw viburnum, dogwood trees, blueberries, sambucus canadensis, purple asters, echinacea magnus, American elder, sweet gum trees, staghorn sumac, sassafrass trees, eragostis spectabilis, ‘shamrock’ bushes, callicarpa Americana, autumn bride, veronia noveboracensis, boltonia asteroids, eupatorium dubium, penstemon digitalis, amelanchier trees, oenothera, ‘fireworks’ grasses, and purple irises. Some of these plants have been fostered in their original locations, others have been planted according to their water and sunlight demands. Many water-happy plants are near our constructed wetland. The property is also managed to remove invasive plants and ensure the survival of native species. This is vital to sustaining endemic species in the area.
Our wetland and water management programs are a valuable educational tool that actively works to restore and regenerate our landscape and water quality. Both our storm-water wetland basin and our constructed wetlands encourage biodiversity as a rich site for habitat. It serves a function that takes water treatment plants significant quantities of chemicals, large infrastructure, and immense amounts of energy to complete. Conventional storm-water treatment would have required the paving and curbing of our landscape, to send all captured storm-water ‘away’. As educators who instill ethics in our students, it did not make sense to us to send our problems somewhere else so we do not have to deal with them. Treating water on site costs less in construction, maintenance, and energy over the lifetime of our wetland. It creates a system that is healing, and capable of adapting to the wide range of weather patterns we experience in New Jersey. Our water bills and the energy associated with a demand on city water are lower because we use captured rainwater to flush our toilets and feed our wetland. A conventional system would send even the cleanest rainwater down to the municipal area for treatment. By using native plants instead of turf grass, we encourage biodiversity on our campus and create habitat on top of having a larger area to help us treat storm-water and snow melt. If we chose turf grass to cover our entire campus, we would just be creating a surface to only benefit humans. Native plantings and native grass landscapes help wildlife, control sedimentation, and require less irrigation & maintenance than foreign/invasive plants and artificial grasses.
Coverage and Replicability
The constructed wetland on our property has a documented environmental benefit, which impacts our community and watershed. As we continue to design curriculum around our wetlands and water treatment, we educate students about alternative forms of water treatment while reducing our water demand and stress on the water treatment plants. This project is absolutely replicable on the East Coast. Our actions affect our local watershed, community, and ecosystems and lead by example. Our waste-water treatment system has been replicated by Duke Farms in Somerset, NJ and the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY.
Education and Outreach
In the 10 years since we have begun our storm-water management journey, over 3,000 people have visited The Willow School- where all are offered a free tour, and a lesson on the benefits of a system like ours.
We have been working with Gracie and Harrigan Foresters on a forest management plan to ensure the best and most efficient ecosystem to treat water on our campus. We consulted with groups like Back to Nature to determine the best plant selections for our wetlands, swales, basins, and campus.
At each grade level, our students learn the functions of the parts of the Willow ecosystem, and their value. As an example, 3rd grade students study the native people of North America and how they used the land. Students seek to answer the essential question, “How does land use impact future generations? And how, when we make decisions about water, do those decisions make our place healthier and a more robust regenerative ecosystem?”
Students graph the compost and trash waste generated at lunch throughout the course of the year. They read stories, poetry and novels that allow them to think and discuss the connections between the past and present. They learn patterns of behavioral and cultural activities that were either detrimental or successful to achieving sustainability. Students use this information to make connections among people throughout history. They read historical novels, folk tales, and a book about ways in which children around the world work to bring about change.
Our 5th grade studies the Raritan River, which has its headwaters just north of our campus, and flows through the school property. Students study various bodies of water and determine how they are connected to their watershed and write journal entries, poetry and Stream Stories.
About The Willow School
The Willow School, located on 34 wooded acres in Gladstone, N.J., educates students in preschool through eighth grade, combining academic excellence with the joy of learning. Children develop a depth of understanding and intellectual curiosity that sets the stage for future academic success. The school emphasizes development of an ethical approach to all relationships, so students can grow to realize their full potential and are instilled with confidence in their ability to effect positive change.