Several people have asked me to provide an update on the wetland restoration project I posted about last November. At that time, we’d just completed our second (last?) phase of the dirtwork to convert sand pit lakes to a stream channel and shallow wetlands. I wrote that we were trying to figure out what to do with a lot of sludge that had floated up from the bottom of the sand pit we’d filled in.
Well, let’s see… Since November, the wetland has been very interesting to watch. We’ve seeded the site a couple times. Most of the non-sludge-covered area was seeded during the winter and then again in the summer, after many of the smaller wetland channels and pockets off of the main stream channel – that allowed us to get seed into areas previously under water. We’re starting to see a few plants come in as a result of those seedings, although the dominant vegetation in the most recently-restored portions of the wetland is still mainly annual plants that colonized on their own.
The areas where we spread the “sludge” from the bottom of the old sandpit grew some pretty tall cannabis (marijuana) plants, along with other common annual weeds. We sprayed those areas several times to prevent the weeds from making seeds and to allow sunlight to keep hitting the ground. That sunlight seemed to help degrade the sludge, which was largely organic matter. By late summer, the sludge appeared to have shrunk considerably in depth, and at the end of August, Tim Horst from Ducks Unlimited stopped by with his monster tractor and disk and disked the area up. That disking seemed to incorporate at least some of that sludge into the sandy substrate below – and, if nothing else, smoothed out the site enough that we can walk and drive equipment across it much more easily. We plan to seed that area this winter and see what happens next year.
This year’s drought helped drive home the value of this restoration. One of the reasons this site is so important is that there is something very special about its hydrology. In past drought years, the stream that passes through this wetland has gone dry just a few hundred yards upstream, but has always continued to flow in the area we’ve restored. In years like 2012, any standing and/or flowing water is extremely rare and valuable, so I’m really glad we were able to complete our restoration before this drought got started. Even during the height of the hot and dry weather in July and August, the stream continued to flow through our restoration site, supporting abundant aquatic and wetland plant and animal populations.
The wetland project is featured on the Platte Basin Timelapse website where you can watch a time lapse video that includes last fall’s dirtwork, congregations of waterfowl during spring migration and the first half of this summer’s drought. The site will continue to be updated over time. In addition, two more cameras were added this summer that will focus a little more closely on a different portion of the same site and capture changes over time. Complementing that visual data, we also have two university research projects (Kansas State University and the University of Nebraska’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit) that will be tracking changes in the water, sediment, and flora/fauna at the wetland.
In short, the project is going very well. I’m extremely satisfied with the way things look so far, and excited to see data from the time lapse cameras and university projects. During the last couple of months, beavers have moved in and made their own alterations to our existing plans – which is great. Great blue herons, kingfishers, sandpipers, soft-shelled turtles, schools of fish, and many other wildlife species are easy to find at the site. Next season should bring increased establishment of the plant species we’ve seeded. In the meantime, the short sparse vegetation in the newly restored portions of the wetland provides a nice complement to the portions we restored a decade ago, and the combination is very pleasant indeed.