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Learn about vegetated floating islands as water-quality-improvement tool at ISU event Sept. 26

September 21, 2015


Landscape architecture and sustainable environments Associate Professor Mimi Wagner, right, and IDRO research associates Jacob Wilson and Lucas Buscher collect water samples from beneath one of three vegetated floating islands on Lake LaVerne. Photo by Alison Weidemann.

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State University researchers who piloted a water-quality improvement project on Lake LaVerne will share initial results in a public outreach event at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, on the lake's north shore.

The research team, including sustainable environments graduate students and faculty Austin Stewart, assistant professor of art and visual culture, and Mimi Wagner, associate professor of landscape architecture, worked with the Story County Soil and Water Conservation District to develop a low-maintenance, inexpensive treatment solution to enhance the water quality of small ponds and lakes in Iowa.

Signage posted around Lake LaVerne describes the water-quality improvement project. Photo by Alison Weidemann.

In May the team launched three vegetated floating islands (VFIs) in highly visible locations on Lake LaVerne with the goal of reducing pollutants and improving the health of the lake, which is prone to algal blooms caused by excess nutrients.

Over the summer, sustainable environments students and staff from the ISU Institute for Design Research and Outreach gathered water samples from under the islands and in control locations. The ISU Limnology Laboratory, directed by John Downing, professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, is analyzing the samples for nitrogen and phosphorus content to determine how well the islands are removing nutrients and contaminants.

Outreach event
At the Sept. 26 event, research team members will describe the project and demonstrate how the installation of VFIs can be a practical measure to reduce contaminants and maintain healthy nutrient levels in ponds and lakes on farms and in corporate campuses and housing developments. Educational materials the team has developed on water-quality-impairment prevention and mitigation strategies will be available at the event.

Participants will be able examine how much plant and root growth has occurred on the islands over the past five months and speak with the researchers about the ongoing project. They also will have the opportunity to handle a model VFI to become familiar with the materials needed to construct one of their own, Stewart said.

Pond owners and urban residents who have a city-owned pond in their neighborhood may obtain a basic water-quality sampling kit to take home to test the water in those ponds.

The "Lake LaVerne Nutrient Pollution Reduction: Water Quality Enhancement in Small Ponds and Lakes Using Vegetated Floating Islands as Publc Art" project is supported by a grant from the Iowa Watershed Improvement Review Board.

Austin Stewart, Art and Visual Culture and Sustainable Environments, (415) 238-6008,
Mimi Wagner, Landscape Architecture and Sustainable Environments,
Jaden Urbi, Design Communications,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,