Floating islands try to improve water quality
WORTHINGTON -- Under cloudy skies and sporadic sprinkles, students in Jeff Rogers' Introduction to Soil Science class at Minnesota West Community and Technical College anchored the first of four floating islands Tuesday afternoon in the E.O. Olson storm water retention pond on campus.
A project of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, in partnership with the E.O. Olson Trust and Minnesota West, the 8-inch-thick, 50-square-foot islands will be tested for their ability to improve water quality in the newly created regional storm water pond.
The islands, made of recycled pop bottles and milk jugs, are manufactured by St. Paul-based Midwest Floating Island, LLC. They will be planted with wetland grasses, forbs, reeds and sedges, which then feed off nutrients in the water. As the plants grow, they establish a root system that provides habitat and a food source for fish and above-water plants that attract insects and birds.
Dan Livdahl, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator and project organizer, said that if the islands prove to be successful in improving water quality, the watershed district will consider putting islands in Lake Okabena. They may prove to be too costly, however. The four islands, once the seeding is completed, will be valued at nearly $6,000.
The four islands have already been seeded with a mixture of grasses, with flower and sedge plugs to be added next week, weather permitting. Approximately $450 in flowers -- including two varieties of asters, Black-eyed Susan, swamp milkweed, Joe Pye Weed, cardinal flower, blue flag iris, purple meadow rue, sneezeweed and others -- will join three varieties of sedges on the islands. Prairie seeds will also be scattered on the islands to see what has success in growing.
"We wanted to have about 50 percent grasses and reeds and 50 percent flowering plants," Livdahl said. "We wanted grasses that can grow on the edge of wetlands, and sedges are wetland plants.
"The reason we're planting so many different types of plants, and seeds as well, is we don't know what will grow on (the islands)," he added. "For aesthetic and wildlife purposes, it would be nice to have a variety of flowers, grasses and reeds."
The plan was to launch all four of the islands on Tuesday, but with falling temperatures and the potential for snow, Livdahl worried the young plants, cared for in the college's greenhouse since late last week, wouldn't survive. Already, a couple of plant varieties were lost over the weekend because they didn't get watered.
Once the plants are placed in the floating islands, Livdahl said there shouldn't be much maintenance. Their roots will be fed from the water in the retention pond, and wire fencing secured on each island will help to protect the young plants from the goose population.
"We're going to monitor (the islands) and remove the goose fence later this summer, depending on plant growth," Livdahl said.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.