Rogue Valley Int’l Implements New Stormwater System

Rogue Valley Int’l Implements New Stormwater System
Sean O’Keefe
Published in: 

This summer, Rogue Valley International–Medford Airport (MFR) in southwestern Oregon completed the installation of an innovative stormwater detention and drainage solution that mimics nature to wick and clean rainwater before returning it to the ground and nearby waterways. 

Located roughly four and a half hours south of Portland, OR, and five hours north of Sacramento, CA, the airport is in the enviable position of having no nearby commercial competitors. Just 30 miles north of the California border, MFR is also attractive to general aviation customers due to Oregon’s highly favorable property tax incentives. Between its commercial service and general aviation traffic, the airport totals about 45,000 aircraft operations a year. Passenger counts have returned to pre-pandemic levels, which reached 1 million in 2018.

Airport Director Jerry Brienza, a 30-year industry veteran, has been at the helm of MFR for five years. One of the many responsibilities he enjoys about his diverse role is constant economic development to bring in new business partnerships that increase the airport’s self-sufficiency from subsidies.


Project: Stormwater Drainage System

Location: Rogue Valley International-Medford (OR) Airport

Size of System: 400 ft. long, 15 ft. wide

Project Designer & Engineer of Record: Precision Approach Engineering

General Contractor: Knife River

Construction Management: Precision Approach Engineering

Filtration System: BioPod Boxless Biofiltration System, by Oldcastle Infrastructure

Filtration Media: StormMix Media

Volume of Media Used:
9,000 cubic ft.

Construction of Biofiltration Swale: April 25-May 6, 2022

Key Benefits: Improved stormwater management; preparation for future growth

With plans to build a secondary runway to accommodate growth ahead, MFR is getting ready for what’s next. “An airport is a landlord, a business partner and a community resource all in one,” Brienza remarks. “It’s very important that we be good stewards of the community’s financial and environmental resources, which is what the new stormwater drainage system is all about.”

A combination of foresight and ingenuity, the new system takes an innovative approach to an age-old problem: water on the airfield. As aviation and engineering professionals understand, an airport’s many paved surfaces cause a lot of runoff during storm events that must drain back to nature as quickly as possible. Standing water of any sort, for any length of time, is likely to attract birds and other wildlife, which are notable threats to flight safety.  

“We are at a point where growth will require us to build more impervious surfaces,” says Brienza, referencing plans to build a secondary runway. “In the past, this resulted in a series of small stormwater treatment facilities all over the airport that left the ground a little like Swiss cheese. We decided to build a single large facility that would serve a large portion of the airport and return clean water to the community creek and elsewhere. If a 25-year rain arrives, water will only stand in this facility for 48 hours before it is all treated and returned to nature.”

New Strategy

The airport hired Precision Approach Engineering to rethink its previous system of removing water from the airfield. In addition to providing design services and acting as engineer of record, Precision Approach also served as construction manager for the project that was completed in May 2022.

“The new drainage system at MFR is a great example of the kind of projects we love to do,” says Josh Lekkerkerker, P.E., vice president, project manager and a founding member of the firm. “We focus on practicality—well-thought-out, easy-to-maintain and built-to-last solutions. In this case, the task was to follow the path of water as it comes out of the sky to have it leave the airport property similar to what would happen if development wasn’t there at all.”

During heavy rain, the expanses of impervious surfaces at MFR don’t just prevent water from soaking into the ground, pollutants resting on the surfaces are also flushed into downstream channels. As gravity carries water off the slightly sloped pavement, a surge is created that floods natural drainage channels and causes ponding. In turn, the ponding attracts birds, which recognize standing water from a distance.

“In trying to mimic what would occur naturally, this system spreads storm surge out across 400 linear feet in a high-flow filtration system that drops it to the ground before it is returned to the original channel,” Lekkerkerker explains. “Only a major downfall will back up water into the detention area, so this is unlikely to be overwhelmed.”

The first component of the two-part system is a biofiltration swale at the catchment basin collection point. Drainage gutters gather runoff, capturing an estimated 90% of the airport’s daily stormwater. A more traditional stormwater treatment system design results in a swale roughly 1,000 feet long and 50 feet wide. The new streamlined high-flow system is just 400 feet long and 15 feet wide. Though the substantial reduction in required real estate is an important advantage, Lekkerkerker notes that the second part of the system is what makes MFR’s new stormwater solution unique.

“The big differentiator is the capacity of this system to get a high volume of water off the surface, filter it, and get it back to the stream in a controlled flow,” he explains. In addition to decommissioning various detention ponds around the airport and diverting their flows to the new system, the recent project also encompassed a large portion of the property that did not previously have a formal drainage system. Gathering all of this into a single catchment area significantly increased the overall volume of water to retain, treat and release.

Project engineers used the BioPod Boxless Biofiltration System, manufactured by Oldcastle Infrastructure because it provides large-format, green stormwater treatment without a precast concrete vault. The company’s proprietary StormMix Media removes a variety of compounds from stormwater runoff: pollutants, suspended solids, dissolved metals, nutrients, gross solids, trash/debris and petroleum hydrocarbons that accumulate on paved surfaces.

“The BioPod Boxless system is relatively new to the market,” says Lekkerkerker, noting that the MFR project placed more of this material than all of the company’s other previous projects combined. “That puts this project on the edge of innovation, while we stay true to the idea of practical, durable and low-maintenance infrastructure.”

With the new system in place, it is now faster and easier for the airport to pull required water samples after storm events. The new system centralizes collection to a single location that is easy to access. One point of collection, one point of maintenance and just one tracking report to complete means a few less things for Brienza and his staff to do every time it rains.

“The approach we took was to reduce our impact on the natural environment for the benefit of the community,” says Brienza proudly. “In this case, what is good for the environment is also good for business. Filling in the Swiss cheese and streamlining detention increases the airport’s growth-readiness by making more land available and future development less complicated. It’s a tremendous win for Rogue Valley.”


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