Charles Leeds is the horticultural supervisor for facilities services/grounds at Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Villanova University has a new landscape feature. It is a two-acre swamp. Actually, it is a stormwater wetland. In engineering terms it is a BMP (Best Management Practice). By whatever name you might choose, it is an example of what can be accomplished when faculty, students, and staff work together.
The wetland is the result of redesigning and restructuring a preexisting stormwater detention basin. This basin, as originally built, held stormwater temporarily and then quickly discharged the water into a local stream. The newly constructed wetland is designed to hold water from small storms for a more extended time. This should allow for sediments and pollutants to be removed from the water before it leaves the site. In greater storms, the site still functions as originally designed.
The project was conceived and designed by Dr. Robert G. Traver and his students in Villanova's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Dr. Traver is heavily involved in stormwater work in his career as both a civil engineer and as a professor of environmental engineering. He saw this project as an opportunity to reduce non-point source pollution and to create a permanent research and demonstration site.
The wetland drains approximately 41 acres of urbanized land on the Villanova campus that includes parking lots, many buildings, and a railroad. The potential for non-point source pollution here is great. The waters eventually flow into the Schuylkill River and then to the Delaware River estuary. The Delaware estuary is home to a variety of fish and other wildlife protected by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, as such, is of great interest to the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Professor Traver was able to obtain grants from the DEP to fund the construction and part of the cost of plantings.
The transformation of detention basin into extended detention wetland was done using a local excavation contractor. A sediment forebay was constructed with a concrete floor and gabion walls. The bay measures 40 X 40 feet and is three feet deep at its outlet. Water enters the wetland from several large pipes and flows through a flat area of vegetation to the forebay. A low berm was constructed to direct the water into the forebay.
From the forebay, a meandering flow of water was created by building a series of finger-like peninsulas. It then flows through a micropool and out through a concrete outlet structure. James Zaleski, director of engineering and services for facilities management at the university, worked closely with Dr. Traver and the contractor to facilitate the construction phase of the project.
After completion of construction, the site was allowed to sit during the first half of 2000. This allowed for some tweaking of grades and sprouting of undesirable vegetation, primarily common reed (Phragmites australis).
Unfortunately, the grading process spread rhizomes of this weed throughout the site. Several applications of an approved herbicide greatly reduced the population of the Phragmites. This set the stage for the final phase of wetland creation. It was time to get appropriate plants into the site.
The horticultural staff of the Grounds Department compiled a list of desired native wetlands plants. Various sedges, flowering streamside plants and shrubs, and true aquatics such as sweet flag and pickerelweed were selected. These plants were obtained from two local nurseries that specialize in wetlands restoration and streambank stabilization work. Funding for plant purchases totaling some $4,000 came from the Department of Environmental Protection grant and an additional grant from the Delaware River Keeper Network.
On June 28-29, 2000, a group of engineering graduate students and several summer student employees of Facilities Services joined with Dr. Traver and me to install the plant-ings. Dressed in hip boots and armed with trowels, this group managed to place over 7,000 plants in just a day and a half. Slogging through knee-deep mud and planting into flowing water was a challenge that was enjoyed by the whole team. In the two months that have passed since the installation of the plants, weather conditions have been extremely rainy and there have been several major storm events. The plants are thriving and the wetland seems to be functioning well. As the plants mature and fill the site, they should be very effective in cleaning the water.
This cooperative project brought together students, faculty, facilities management staff, and several outside agencies. The innovative crossing of traditional lines allowed a diverse group of people to create a living laboratory for engineering, biology, and environmental studies for Villanova University while addressing a serious water quality issue to the benefit of our local region.