The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning


The University of Utah Green Infrastructure Research Facility (GIRF) experiments with plant ecology, hydrology, and biogeochemistry of biorention systems. Despite the widespread implementation of green infrastructure, the ecological and hydrologic factors controlling pollutant sequestration by biorention systems are not well-understood in arid cities. To better understand pollutant sequestration by biorention systems in arid environments, this study examines the effect of vegetative treatment within bioretention systems on ‘stormwater’ pollutant concentration. Some of the questions this project aims to answer include:

  • How does Utah’s arid environment affect the function of green infrastructure?
  • What types of plant species thrive best in the Utah climate?
  • Does the presence of more diverse plants in biorention systems improve water quality more than less diverse plots?

Study Site

GIRF contains nine lined plots, planted in triplicate treatment. All the plots are connected by PVC piping that allows water to enter and exit each plot, contain one lysimeter per plot, and are entirely contained within the same system. GIRF’s contained layout makes it ideal for understanding mass-balance within the system. The following plant species are being tested:

  • Echinacea purpurea (coneflower)
  • Bouteloua gracilis (Blue Grama Grass )
  • Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain Beardtongue)
  • Potentilla (Cinquefoil)
  • Ribes Aureum (Golden Currant)
  • Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)
  • Penstemon pinifolious (perennial herb)
  • Elymus cinereus (Great Basin Wild Rye)
  • Ribes alpinum (Alpine Currant)

Why is GIRF so important?

Collecting data on the concentrations of metals and nutrients within different vegetative plantings in an arid environment fosters a better understanding of how metals and nutrients in stormwater interact with plant and microbial communities. This data is key in understanding the effectiveness of green infrastructure in meeting water quality goals.

What does GIRF mean for Red Butte Creek?

  • GIRF allows experimentation with bioretention systems to determine the most effective and aesthetic version possible, so that time is not wasted in implementing restoration strategies.
  • The data produced from GIRF will inform researchers, designers, and public officials alike to facilitate resilient urban water management.

GIRF’s unique template for studying these questions – and others – and will stimulate greater understanding of the green infrastructure stormwater management strategy.