With very little resources, the city of Albany-Millersburg, OR developed a fantastic example of a successful biocarbon project that is helping a local ecosystem thrive.
By Jeannette Allan
On a hot July day, you might decide that the only thing that sounds pleasant is cooling off in the nearby stream. As you eagerly dip your feet in what should be refreshingly cool water, you are immediately struck at how warm the temperature feels. In fact, it almost feels as though you’re stepping into a bath.
This was exactly the case in the City of Albany-Millersburg, Oregon where water flows into the Willamette River. Only a few years ago, the water temperature registered around 73°F at the hottest time of the summer, when it needed to read about 68°F for Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) standards.
To mitigate the problem, the public works directors realized that they
could choose the expensive, quick fix option of building cooling towers, or
they could choose a more holistic approach that would benefit the community,
restore wildlife habitat and save city funds. They opted for the latter and purchased
some industrial land that had become a semi-truck parking lot to restore it to a
wetland area. The water is pumped into an inlet, but without the use of valves,
electricity or pumps in the garden; it solely relies on gravity to pull the
water along. In doing so, they succeeded in making the water cleaner than State
DEQ water standards.
The vegetation bordering the wetland area provides shade, helping the water to lose heat and cool down. Wetlands are created by hydroseeding, a process that sprays seed and mulch to economically gain the needed 80 percent plant coverage. The carbon-rich soil and panoply of plant life that replaced the parking lot now helps draw excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making this a good biocarbon solution as well as money-saver for taxpayers.
This project, now known as the Albany-Millersburg Talking Water
Gardens, currently collaborates with Oregon State University’s Chemical,
Biological & Environmental Engineering department to study removal of
nitrates, one of the major challenges. Though a study has yet to account for
the carbon and energy benefits, the wetland has the potential to remove about 4,000
pounds of nitrogen and 40 pounds of phosphorous per day. Mark Dolan, Associate Professor at the
Environmental & Engineering department, and his team are tracking the total
dissolved solids level in the cells and plans to conduct a study on the
microbial life in the ponds in the near future.
The beauty of this project is that with very little resources the city
developed a natural method to cool down the ecosystem and allow plants to reproduce and organic matter to be stored in the soil. In other words, they developed
a fantastic example of how biocarbon – plants absorbing carbon through
photosynthesis and storing it in their biomass and soils - can cool the stream’s
temperature as well as reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
The 50-acre site covers about three miles of paths for the public to walk
along while viewing the plants and the wildlife (wild mink, painted turtles,
salamanders, bald eagles, red tail hawks, great blue herons and falcons) that
were absent for so long. It is the first public/private engineering project of
its kind in the U.S. and opened to the public May 24, 2011. The grand opening ceremony
will be held June 20, 2012.
So the next time you dip your feet into a stream hoping to cool off, but instead feel like you are putting your toes in bathwater, take a minute to observe your surroundings. Do you see or hear wildlife? Do the plants, air, soil and native species appear healthy? If not, advocate for your local officials to introduce good biocarbon practices that will help restore habitats and ecosystems.
The Northwest Biocarbon Initiative is working to spark such collaboration and create cleaner environments for future generations.