Floating Wetlands Phase II

Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $16,000

Letter of Intent:

Summary The UW Floating Wetlands Demonstration Project is designed to occur in two phases: Feasibility Analysis (I) and Implementation (II).  The Campus Sustainability Fund accepted the Green Futures Lab’s Phase I proposal, which we anticipate to be completed during Winter quarter 2016.  Project goals currently achieved by our Floating Wetland Student Team include:  

  • investigating optimal installation locations and conditions;
  • researching and classifying the habitat needs of juvenile migrating salmon;
  • identifying permitting agencies and permit requirements;
  • building relationships with agencies, stakeholders, partners, and interested parties;
  • articulating design criteria responses to particular conditions and concerns; and
  • developing preliminary conceptual designs.  

Phase II funding will enable the team to develop appropriate designs, create detailed drawings sets for required approvals and construction,  acquire  materials, obtain permits, and see the project through construction, installation, maintenance, monitoring, and evaluation. CSF assistance will also allow our Floating Wetland Student Team to co-lead a scheduled Spring 2017 seminar, bringing the detailed knowledge gained in Phase I to a larger group of interdisciplinary students who will develop possible alternative prototypes for further consideration.  We anticipate improvement of Union Bay aquatic habitat - especially for outmigrating juvenile salmonids - and moderation of pollutant loads through the deployment of these floating wetlands.  Furthermore, this project will provide a compelling educational example for our students while setting precedence for other Seattle water bodies, showcasing UW’s leadership role in green technology and public/community partnerships.  

Brief Explanation of the Phase II Floating Wetlands Project Water is an integral part of the University of Washington campus, and in our mission to be sustainable, its importance cannot be overlooked. In other parts of the world, floating wetland structures are being successfully used to reduce harmful substances in waterways such as metals, excess nutrients, and other pollutants. They sequester carbon, mitigate water temperatures, and provide habitat for aquatic biota. Here in the Pacific Northwest, floating wetlands are an emerging technology. The Floating Wetlands Demonstration aims to exemplify future aquatic sustainability in a visible and participatory manner, raising public awareness in an exciting new fashion.    

Floating wetlands are designed to increase vegetative cover and habitat for aquatic and avian species, especially where hardened shorelines limit habitat quality. They hold significant potential benefit in the greater Puget Sound region as extensive shoreline hardening has contributed to great decline of critical species and is a significant “Vital Sign” targeted by the Puget Sound Partnership.  However, as an innovative approach toward habitat creation and restoration, floating wetlands have little precedence in the Pacific Northwest.  As such, floating wetland implementation faces intense scrutiny prior to implementation.  This necessitates thorough research, forward-thinking design approaches, and clear communication.  Thus far, students working on Phase I of the Floating Wetlands Demonstration have succeeded in these categories and look forward to taking the next steps toward implementation of this valuable approach.  

Our conversations with permitting agencies and tribal representatives have drawn support and highlighted barriers toward installing innovative floating wetlands to improve shoreline habitat in the waters of the UW campus.  The Green Futures Lab hopes to apply 2017 CSF funding toward continued project development.  We will build upon current design and research as student staff members are retained to create and co-teach a Spring 2017 seminar.  Funding would allow our student Floating Wetlands Team to co-lead this course, applying their multidepartmental expertise while bringing in additional students as registered course participants. The course would also draw upon faculty and professional proficiency located at UW, City, and County, and State levels. Students in the seminar would gain knowledge and understanding of:    • occurrence, use, and diversity of floating wetlands in other parts of the world; • environmental conditions of Union Bay and Portage Bay and their relation to potential habitat and juvenile salmon migration patterns; • design criteria applied to understanding coastal zone policy and treaty rights within the Lake Washington-Lake Union fish migration corridor; • designs of floating wetlands created for other locales and their results; and • potential materials that might be used in appropriate new floating wetland designs for the UW campus.  

Application of this knowledge will result in designs for a range of floating wetlands suitable to conditions in UW campus waters. From this benchmark, the Floating Wetland Team will select a final site and design(s) for installation.  The subsequent implementation phases include:  

  • final selection of sites and floating wetland prototypes to be installed (working directly with permitting agencies);
  • submission of permit applications for the specific prototypes and sites;
  • detailed drawings and material selection for the floating wetland prototypes to be installed construction and installation of the prototypes;
  • monitoring and maintenance of the floating wetlands;
  • development of a webpage interpreting the floating wetlands and their intended function, with a QR code linked to the webpage placed onshore near the wetland;  and
  • creation of presentation(s) to be given to UW students in relevant wetland, ecology, fisheries, and ecological design courses.  

Estimated Phase II Costs We anticipate that Phase II of the project would operate through Fall term 2017 with a total cost of $16,000.  This would compensate our team of three students leading the Spring seminar, and over Summer and Fall 2017 with the team working part time to bring the demonstration project to full fruition.  We anticipate a materials and transportation (of materials) budget to be approximately $1800 of the total figure.   

The Phase I Floating Wetlands Demonstration Project funds have supported investigation, design thinking, and coalition-building to advance floating wetland installation along UW shorelines in Union Bay and Portage Bay.  Representing both the College of Built Environments and the College of the Environment, the GFL student staff of three have performed extensive research on and response to environmental conditions of UW waters; fish habitat needs and limitations; permit requirements and permitting pathways with the appropriate agencies; siting opportunities and constraints; and development of resulting design criteria for local floating wetlands, incorporating stakeholder needs and insights from the region. We have also cultivated awareness on the part of permitters of the technology, who are interested in considering our resulting design proposals. We are enthusiastic to continue the permitting, design, construction and education for these demonstration prototypes that may be scaled up to inhabit the Lake Washington-Lake Union basin to make a measurable difference in the aquatic health of our university and region. 

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Jackson Blalock