In the City of Oberlin, as in many urban communities, precipitation falling on buildings and other impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots and sidewalks, is rapidly channeled into a storm sewer system. Intense summer rain storms deliver pulses of water that infiltrate the adjacent sewage collection system, temporarily overwhelming capacity at the treatment plant. As a result, several times a year, thousands of gallons of untreated municipal wastewater enter local river systems. Contaminants in this water combine with the large volume of flow to damage the ecological integrity of the receiving bodies of water.

The AJLC is designed to showcase alternative means of storm-water management available to businesses and cities. Water that falls on the roof, sidewalk and parking lot of the AJLC drains into the wetland and into a 9,700 gallon cistern buried to the north of the building. Cistern water can be used for irrigating the garden and fruit trees in the summer. In addition to its other functions, the wetland thus serves as a basin to temporarily impound and cleanse stormwater. During drier portions of the year, rainwater stored in the cistern is pumped into the wetland so as to maintain desirable aquatic habitat.