MDC and Springfield City Utilities partner on floating wetland project at Fellows Lake

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Small man-made islands are improving water quality and habitats at Fellows Lake and other municipal water bodies in and around Springfield.

On Monday, July 1, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), in cooperation with City Utilities of Springfield (CU), launched its latest floating wetland on the north shore of Fellows Lake. This isn’t the first floating wetland launched in or near Springfield. Floating wetlands can also be found at Sequiota Park and Doling Park, which are city parks within Springfield's city limits. However, the make-up of the wetland launched at Fellows Lake is unique – it was constructed with no plastic components. The base consists of an aluminum structure that is filled with recycled glass aggregate, which is light-weight and buoyant. This material is also more environmentally sustainable. The wetland launched at Fellows Lake is roughly 8 feet by 12 feet, with 64 square feet of planting area. The plant species planted on this wetland are pickerel weed, arrowhead, southern blue flag, rushes, lizard’s tail, and swamp milkweed. All are native to this region and will benefit both pollinators and aquatic life.

Floating wetlands – which are appearing with greater frequency in lakes and ponds around the country – provide a range of environmental benefits. They filter sediment and contaminants from stormwater. These systems can also take up excess agricultural nutrients that, if unchecked, could lead to excessive algal blooms and dead zones in lakes. As roots of the water-friendly plants on the wetland stretch down into the water, they form a mesh that provides habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms. Above-water, the plants’ blooms provide habitat for pollinating insects, birds, and other wildlife. Floating wetlands are a nature-based strategy with multiple benefits that can be used in combination with other conservation practices to reduce and treat the complex problem of excess nutrients within a watershed.

Future floating wetland launches are planned at other sites in and around Springfield later this summer. These launches, and the wetlands associated with them at each site, are the result of partnership efforts between MDC and several local entities.

“We have been working with plastic-based floating wetlands at several sites and have had success,” said MDC Fisheries Biologist Kara Tvedt. “However, plastics will eventually break down over time and we wanted to take the next step and come up with a more durable, non-plastic floating wetland. City Utilities, with their water supply, was the perfect co-lead to explore this endeavor and enhance conservation within their community. With the assistance of staff from a multitude of agencies, local NGOs, and colleges, we came up with this design. We will likely have to do some tweaking, but I think we are on the right path towards an even more environmentally friendly approach.”

The long-range goal of these wetlands isn’t just to establish floating wetlands at publicly owned bodies of water. It’s also hoped that, down the road, this is something landowners could do on private ponds and small privately owned lakes.

“This is just the first step,” Tvedt said. “We’d eventually like to provide instructions and technical advice to landowners who want to do this on their ponds and small lakes, too."