Annapolis' floating 'wetland' could help restore the bay

Plants expected to absorb nutrients from the water

November 21, 2009|By James B. Hale | Capital News Service

Annapolis intends to test a floating island in a local lagoon that, if successful, could help clean the water in the Chesapeake Bay, according to Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

Moyer also announced an eco-friendly renovation of a city parking lot and the creation of a private-public partnership to offer property owners tax-exempt, low- interest loans to install energy-efficient equipment.

The floating island, which would absorb nutrients from the water, will be tested in a lagoon in Back Creek Nature Park.

Floating islands are created from recycled plastics and planted with wetland plants that soak up nutrients from the water, said Steve Carr, the city's environmental adviser. He said the project in Annapolis will act as a test to see whether the technology can be implemented in larger areas of the bay.

"The main goal is to clean up the water quality in the lagoon, and in so doing, show the benefit and application of this technology baywide," Carr said.

Plant roots would extend from the 20-foot-by-20-foot device to soak up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the lagoon, Carr said. Scientists would monitor the levels of pollutants in the water before and after the island is set up.

Moyer said the island, along with other citywide initiatives, shows that Annapolis is ahead of the curve on environmental projects. She noted President Barack Obama's executive order in May, which called on the nation to do more to protect the bay.

"It is, after all, our duty as a local government to continue to meet this charge from the president ... and to offer solutions," she said.

Carr said he initially proposed the island idea on a larger scale to the state, but was told he needed to prove that the technology worked. Now, with about $300,000 in taxpayer money, he said, he hopes to do just that.

If all goes according to plan, BlueWing, the company that makes the islands, will have one in the lagoon by Earth Day, April 22, Carr said.

David R. Tilley, an associate professor of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland, College Park, said that while he is familiar with the floating islands, he hasn't seen anyone use the technology on a scale even as large as that proposed for the lagoon.

"I think it could prove to be very successful, but you have to try it," he said. "I think it has a lot of potential."

But Tilley warned that the plan only addresses part of the water pollution problem. While the islands could help rid water of harmful nutrients, they do not stop runoff from getting into the water in the first place, he said.

Carr said the city understands the many issues involved in cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Officials plan on taking a two-pronged approach to the issue, to both clean the water and stop pollution from getting into it, he said.

"If you have an accident, you have to clean up the accident," Carr said. "The other thing you do is try to prevent accidents."

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