Floating Wetlands Phase II

Executive Summary:

     UW’s Green Futures Lab (“GFL”) is seeking to design, permit, and install demonstration floating wetlands (“FWLs”) to function as aquatic habitat in Pacific Northwest salmon migration corridors, through three separate project phases. Phase I, funded by CSF, has identified permitting pathways and appropriate, fish-friendly design parameters to realize this potential. In a future Phase III we hope to deploy FWLs for demonstration and study.  Phase II Floating Wetlands Demonstration will build from our Phase I research and design progress to: determine specific potential sites; create detailed design prototypes reflecting site nuances, species’ needs, and permitting requirements; and apply for permits for the selected prototype design(s).  The final design proposal for permitting will utilize design exploration and prototype development from students in an interdisciplinary Floating Wetlands Seminar and a linked volunteer Floating Wetlands Design-Build Lab, informed and engaged by the Floating Wetlands Student Project Team (“Team”).

     Phase II will develop designs for yet-to-be-determined sites; no installation will occur during Phase II.  Sites of interest include UW shorelines along Portage Bay and Union Bay, along with other shorelines in the Lake Washington stream system (the salmon migration corridor encompassing UW shorelines).  The budgeted cost of Phase II is $12,050.

In order to address shoreline hardening – a contributor to decline of critical species and a “Vital Sign” targeted by Puget Sound Partnership – while improving water quality, we seek to design, prepare documents, and receive permits for FWLs in salmon-bearing waters for the first time in the Pacific Northwest.  We will use progress made toward submitting drawings and documents for permit review as a metric in gauging success of Floating Wetlands Demonstration, Phase II – Prototype Development.

     The GFL’s work with FWLs began in 2013 with a seminar which produced Floating Wetlands Research and Design Investigations, Volumes I+II.  This prompted installation of 360 sq ft of student-developed water treatment FWLs in Redmond as well as King County-developed FWLs at the Brightwater Treatment Plant and Education Center.  The current Floating Wetland Demonstration builds from this initial water-quality-specific research, taking next steps to push for viability of FWLs for freshwater shoreline habitat restoration in the region.  Our 2016 CSF grant (Phase I – Initial Feasibility Study) allowed us to analyze and synthesize regional salmonid research, permitting processes, and design considerations to inform this proposed Phase II – Prototype Development.  

     Jackson Blalock, a Master of Landscape Architecture candidate, will lead Phase II.  SEFS and SAFS students Corrine Hoffman and/or David Hagopian will continue Student Team involvement. The Team will present their research and design parameters to a special Floating Wetlands seminar, engaging these students throughout Spring term as they assist with design development and influence the Team’s designs as presented to permitters. The Floating Wetlands Seminar will engage multiple departments in recruiting students for seminar participation as well as for an extracurricular Floating Wetlands Design-Build Lab to further project development under the scope of the CSF grant.  Both seminar and Design-Build Lab will build capacity for Phase III - Installation by broadening awareness of the project.  Professor Nancy Rottle, Director of the GFL, will be involved throughout the project. Mason Bowles (King County Department of Water Resources), Jason Toft (UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Wetland Ecosystem Team), and Jeff Cordell (UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Wetland Ecosystem Team) will continue to advise as needed.  Julie Blakeslee (UW Environmental and Land Use Planner) will also provide consultation services with the project as we move forward.

The  GFL’s previous work is available at: http://greenfutures.washington.edu/index.php/projects/detail/floating-wetlands

Student Involvement:

The Floating Wetlands Demonstration, Phase II – Prototype Development will provide employment for two students from Spring through Summer 2017.  In Spring 2017, two students will work approximately 10hrs/week, and again two students will work approximately 10 hrs/week during Summer term (hours may be otherwise distributed to include a third student team member.)  The compensated positions will engage students from different departments, and  there will also be opportunities for volunteer positions.

            As an initial benchmark, the Team will compile existing documentation and design parameters into a form which is accessible and informative for other parties interested in developing FWLs in the region, and for consumption by students in the Floating Wetlands seminar and volunteer Design-Build Lab. From here, work will target the specific development of the FWL prototype through site selection and analysis, detailed application of Phase I’s design parameters to the selected sites, and development of a drawing set and documents for permit application.  See “Accountability” chart below for timeline.  Throughout this work, the project Team will be in conversation with various permitting agencies and affected parties (e.g King County, City of Seattle, WA Department of Ecology, WA Department of Natural Resources, Muckleshoot Tribe, UW Capital Projects, community groups), seeking feedback on design and siting in order to develop a successful permittable design which addresses multiple stakeholders’ needs. 

            Project development and student involvement will also occur through the Spring 2017 LARCH 598 F Floating Wetlands Seminar, in which the student Team will function as advisors and “clients”, to expand the project’s outreach and education potential and to ensure appropriate design solutions, as well as to benefit from registered students’ dedicated efforts to further explore and refine site-specific designs.  The Team will present their research and design parameters, engaging these students throughout Spring term to ensure that their prototype designs are appropriately developed in response to needs of juvenile salmon and other considerations.  The Team will adapt work produced in the class to a selected site and refined design for permit application, as innovative ideas are expected to come from the seminar’s interdisciplinary design explorations.  In this sense, the 20 – 25 students involved in the Floating Wetlands Seminar will be providing an in-kind donation of ideation and design document production to the Phase II project, while expanding their awareness of and competence in applying FWLs as a viable sustainable technology. The Landscape Architecture Department has allocated faculty time for this special seminar, but funding is not available for the student Floating Wetlands Team; CSF funding will only be used to support the contributions of the student Team, and materials for students to develop floating wetland prototypes in the seminar and Design-Build Lab described below.  

            In addition, the Team will use the course as a base point to recruit volunteer participants in a “Floating Wetlands Design-Build Lab” in which materials and assembly mock-ups for proposed FWL designs are tested.  Led by the project Team and running concurrently with the Floating Wetlands Seminar, the Design-Build Lab will test the efficacy of material assemblies presented through design proposals in a fun, inviting, and educational hands-on atmosphere.  Students in the seminar will be likely to participate in the Lab, as this provides an opportunity for them to take FWL ideas off of papere and into reality, providing learning experiences alongside valuable portfolio and resume material.  Through these linked processes, the project Team, seminar students, and volunteers will gain valuable experience in: collaborating with an interdisciplinary team; conducting relevant research; translating new expertise into a design proposal; the iterative design process; exploring regulatory processes; and organizing and presenting their findings.  

Education & Outreach:

GFL’s Floating Wetlands Seminar will provide an avenue for students to engage with the Floating Wetlands Demonstration project in a manner productive to the GFL as well as enlarge individual students’ educations.  Outreach for the Floating Wetlands Seminar will be conducted through multiple avenues, including UW’s College of the Environment, College of Engineering, and College of Built Environments (as well as with respective individual departments within).  Additional outreach will be conducted through the Center for Urban Horticulture, student groups such as Society for Ecological Restoration-UW, and others.

            Specific outreach and education goals for Phase II of the Floating Wetlands Demonstration include:  

-furthering student understanding of the permitting complexities and Tribal Treaty Rights; surrounding aquatic structures, prototype realization, shoreline restoration, and shoreline development;

- furthering understanding of the aquatic processes ongoing in the fish corridor that the UW campus contributes to – or inhibits – particularly in relation to out-migrating juvenile salmon;

- creating awareness of the benefits and limitations of floating wetlands as a sustainable technology

            -stimulating cross-departmental conversation and teamwork, utilizing the Floating Wetlands Demonstration to bring students together from different fields to develop solutions.  The Floating Wetlands Design-Build Lab will invite students who are interested in the project to assist with prototype development and material assembly testing through fun, informal, hands-on activities which leverage volunteer involvement to help grant funds stretch further.  

Environmental Impact:
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Environmental Justice
Project Longevity:

As Phase II-Prototype Development will advance and permit a final design for our Floating Wetland Demonstration project, we do not presently request funding for long term management and maintenance. Phase III-Deployment will be funded separately at a future date, with planned installation between October 1, 2017 and April 15, 2018 in compliance with City of Seattle’s salmon-protection work windows.
In-water FWL deployment is expected to last for approximately 18 months, during which time GFL staff will handle all maintenance in-house. The FWL will be removed from the water at the end of this lifespan in accordance with salmon-protection work windows, or – if deemed beneficial by regulatory agencies – allowed to decompose in situ.

Environmental Problem:

Polluted runoff from urban and agricultural lands has taken a massive toll upon wildlife populations and ecological function in the Puget Sound.  Shoreline development has compounded this problem and disconnected beneficial aquatic-terrestrial connectivity by removing vegetated buffers along shorelines, often replacing these healthy riparian zones with rip-rap, bulkheads, and other forms of shoreline armoring.  As such, pollution reaches our waters while ecologically-beneficial nutrients and food sources’ contributions to aquatic habitats are diminished, leading the Puget Sound Partnership to list (fresh and marine) water quality and shoreline armoring as “Vital Signs” of Puget Sound and contributing watersheds’ health. 

FWLs are an emerging green technology that grow native wetland plants on buoyant frames to mimic functions provided by natural wetlands and riparian zones, which have been largely removed due to shoreline development. Overhanging vegetation drop needed insects and detritus for food and aquatic root systems purify polluted water and provide refuge for small fish. FWLs have been consistently shown to improve water quality world-wide, but they have yet to be integrated into habitat restoration.  Due to the immense scale of shoreline hardening in the greater Puget Sound and the likely long-term duration of such shoreline alterations, FWLs provide a particularly relevant solution to address shoreline habitat loss.   However, FWLs have not been applied toward aquatic habitat and have so far had limited use in the PNW due to concerns over salmonid habitat and the potential for increased predation upon juvenile salmon as a result of over-water structures.  By developing the region’s first permitted FWLs in a manner that creates refuge and nursery habitat for juvenile salmonids while discouraging predation, the GFL’s FWLs have potential to not only improve water quality, but also contribute to aquatic habitat restoration in a manner that addresses regional concerns, serving as an example for other Seattle water bodies and showcasing UW’s leadership role in restorative green technology and public/community partnerships.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The impact of Floating Wetlands Demonstration, Phase II – Prototype Development will be measured by the progress made toward site-specific design drawing sets and ensuing permits issued that will allow for Phase III installation of approved designs.  As a first-of-its-kind project in Washington State (and greater Pacific Northwest), successful permitting of the Floating Wetlands Demonstration will have great impact as it sets precedence for accepted feasible designs and navigates a permitting route for future shoreline habitat restorations and water quality improvements utilizing FWLs. 

Total amount requested from the CSF: $12,050
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Spring student staff (2)$15/hr + benefits = $18/hr10hr/wk, 12 wks = 2160 x 2$4320
Summer student staff (2)$15/hr + benefits = $18/hr10hr/wk, 12 wks = 2160 x 2$4320
Construction materials (testing)$350/mockup6$2100
Travel to meetings, presentations, supplies, etc$200$200
Permit application fees$960$960

Non-CSF Sources:

problems changing number of row/columns, uploading Project Approval Forms. See separate email to Kyle McDermott
Project Completion Total: $12,050


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Compilation of existing research, analysis, and design parameters3 weeksMarch 27, 2017
Advisement on seminar content and development of Design-Build Lab process2 weeksMarch 27, 2017
Focused site selections (6)3 weeksApril 17, 2017
Design development and final proposal selection(s) (working with seminar and Lab)10 weeksJune 9, 2017
Design refinement with permitting agencies12 weeksJuly 7, 2017
Production of drawing set for permits3 weeksJuly 28, 2017
Permit submission3 weeksAugust 21, 2017