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The Arboretum Waterway’s New Floating Island: A Green Solution

Waterway Steward Nina Suzuki and Student Co-coordinator Kendal Hicks
Waterway Steward Nina Suzuki and Student Co-coordinator Kendal Hicks launch the floating island.

by Enrica Jiang, Communications Intern

New Arboretum Waterway Feature

Water those plants doing floating in the middle of the Arboretum Waterway? This week, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Learning by Leading™ Waterway Stewardship interns launched a floating island of wetland plants in the Arboretum Waterway near Putah Creek Lodge to improve the water quality, wildlife habitat and aesthetic appeal of this portion of the Waterway.

The Arboretum Waterway — the lowest place on campus — is the catch all for the stormwater runoff as well as the campus’s recycled water. As a result, the water is rich in nitrate and phosphate levels, which creates the perfect growing conditions for algae and duckweed during our warm summers.

“In the past, we have had issues of decomposing algae blooms, which result in low dissolved oxygen and potential fish kills in the Waterway,” said Nina Suzuki, Waterway Steward. “Our floating island will demonstrate the effectiveness of green solutions to water pollution. Installing wetland plants is a sustainable, energy efficient method for removing nutrients and increasing dissolved oxygen, which will improve water quality.”

Student interns and Waterway Steward Nina Suzuki
Student interns and Waterway Steward Nina Suzuki prepare for the launch of the floating island by transplanting native plants onto the island.

The Green Initiative Fund Grant

Last year, the Waterway Stewardship team received a grant from the The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) for the design and installation of the floating island. This two quarter long, student-led process involved the meticulous planning and development of the floating island design, materials, and plant layout.

The island features attractive native plants such as the sedges and rushes you would see along nearby Putah Creek, as well as colorful flowering plants like purple aster, California native sunflower, and milkweed. The Waterway Stewards will swap out the plants every winter, before the plants die back and release the phosphate and nitrate nutrients back into the water. The tallest native plants, placed in the middle of the island, are expected to grow about four feet high. Check out the complete list of plants on the island here!

This floating island serves a preview for the large-scale wetland planned for the final phase of the Waterway Maintenance and Enhancement Project.

Student Environmental Leadership

Student co-coordinator Tiffani To
Student co-coordinator Tiffany To has contributed to the design and installation of the floating island since early planning stages of the project.

“It has been incredibly rewarding to be a part of this project,” said Tiffany To, waterway stewardship student co-coordinator. “As an Environmental Sciences and Management major, I have learned many project management and leadership skills here that I look forward to applying in my ambition to promote sustainability in urban settings.”

This project allows Waterway Stewardship interns to gain hands on experience in sustainable environmental design, and Suzuki provides valuable staff mentor support.

“We hope this project will generate curiosity and start conversations around water quality and the Arboretum Waterway’s multiple benefits,” said Suzuki. “This innovative island is a great, aesthetically pleasing way to clean the water and get more people talking about this important part of our campus utility water infrastructure!”