Graduate student intern studies Connecticut rain gardens to address storm water management in China and Japan

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Linying Zhang, left, and Lukas McNaboe, graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. Photo by Mike Dietz.

Linying Zhang, a Ph.D. student from Kyoto University in Japan, recently visited the College for a month-long internship on rain gardens and bioretention with Extension Educator Mike Dietz. Bioretention areas are swales planted with vegetation to collect and infiltrate storm water. The term bioretention area is used for larger engineered spaces, and smaller ones are called rain gardens.

Zhang is in the first year of her Ph.D. program. She grew up Fuzhou, a region in southeastern China. She received her baccalaureate and master’s degree in landscape architecture from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in Fuzhou. After seeing photos of Japanese gardens in a textbook, she says, “I decided I must go there to study.” At Kyoto, she is studying global environment studies with a concentration in landscape ecology and planning, specifically as it relates to landscape architecture. Her research focuses on rain gardens and sustainable storm water management in Japan. She expects to complete her degree in 2020.

As part of her program at Kyoto University, Zhang is required to complete an internship. Surfing the internet one day, she found the website for NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials), a UConn Extension program offered through the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). It appeared to Zhang that Dietz’s research aligned with her interests, and emailed him, asking if she might study with him.

Kyoto University funded Zhang’s internship. It was her first trip to the United States. “The landscape is beautiful here,” she said, “and there are lots of green open spaces. The old stone walls are very beautiful too.”

The Storrs campus has many bioretention areas and served as Zhang’s classroom. The buildings, roads, parking lots and sidewalks are similar to those of a city. Green infrastructure such as bioretention areas, green roofs and pervious pavements have been installed on campus to help restore a more natural hydrologic balance. Dietz and Zhang toured other bioretention areas around the state, including those at Edgewood School in New Haven. “I’m not a hydrology major, so that was challenging, but I’m working on learning more,” says Zhang.

“In China, more and more researchers are dedicated to China’s sponge city initiative and are focusing on bioretention, rain gardens and green infrastructure,” Zhang continues. “It makes cities better. There are close to 1,400 facilities around the United States with bioretention, and it’s cool to see so many examples. Here at UConn, students have been involved in the process through Mike’s work, and it helps them understand the theory and what we’re doing with bioretention.”

Zhang is also intrigued by the rain garden app. It was UConn’s first app, developed by Dietz and CLEAR’s David Dickson and made available to the public in 2013. Landscapers, contractors and homeowners use the app to design, install and maintain rain gardens.

Zhang sees a role in Japan for rain gardens in the cities, as storm water presents many challenges. “Japanese-style rain gardens are a little different from those in the United States,” says Zhang. “I want to adapt what I’ve learned here to the Japanese and Chinese styles. The different climate and altitudes dictate some of the differences. In the United States, you also have high nitrogen and focus on that. In Japan, we need to focus on the volume of storm water a rain garden can hold and the evaluation of flood mitigation capacity. The research foci are different, but I want to connect them. Despite the differences, I find so many connections between the United States, Japan and China.”

“Thanks to everyone who helped me not only in study, but also in daily life. It was a wonderful trip to study and experience the different culture,” says Zhang.

“It has been such a pleasure to get to know Linying,” says Dietz. “ In discussing our work, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the Chinese and Japanese cultures.”

By Stacey Stearns