At least seven large holes have appeared on the Sacramento State campus in recent days.
Contractors have dug the holes around storm drains and will prepare them for special runoff filtration systems before the water enters the American River.
John Johnston is with the university's Office of Water Programs. He says the holes in the ground will be turned into gardens, planter boxes and swales.
"It's a shallow basin, planted with drought-tolerant shrubs, with a combination of compost and sand beneath it, with a high permeability so the water goes straight down and into a gravel collection basin at the bottom where it is piped out to the system," says Johnston.
Johnston says the new systems will filter at least 80 percent of sediment and about half of the metals that have historically ended up in the river.
He's also an engineering professor.
"We're tied into the existing piping system and that's led to some interesting design challenges because you don't have a blank slate," he says. "You have to fit it into the existing system and sometimes that compromises the design a little bit."
Johnson says as much as 15 percent of the water will help recharge the campus' groundwater.
The plan calls for the planter boxes to be completed in time for the start of the school year in August. Planting and construction on other drains will begin in the fall.
The City of Sacramento and the university are working together on the project. It will cost $3 million for planning, construction and a year's worth of monitoring. Engineering students will take part in the program during the monitoring phase.
The funding comes from a State Water Resources Control Board grant.