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Project Wetlands

By Faye Gottlieb Cascio

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of activity:

  • hands-on activity
  • community outreach/off-site activity

Target audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP Biology
  • Environmental studies
  • Special Needs (gifted, ESL)

Background information:

The goal of Project Wetlands is to make science come alive for students so that what is done in the classroom can be transferred to real world experiences. This activity was developed along with a local environmental engineering firm. Students were asked to develop a joint undertaking designed to solve an environmental problem in our local community. The students suggested tackling the problem of erosion of banks and chemical run-off into a nearby lake, which is within walking distance of our school. Constructing a wetlands was proposed to help solve the problem of nutrient imbalance in the lake. The development of a wetland would act as a buffer to absorb these nutrients and provide a natural filtering system for the lake. Through this project, students not only learn first hand about productivity, chemical analysis, nutrient cycles, and biodiversity, they also learn the ecological importance of wetlands, decision-making skills, problem solving, and community involvement.

The time commitment by the students is great since much of the project activity is done after school, or on weekends. Students are divided into teams with specific tasks and weekly progress reports are presented and discussed in class. Bimonthly trips to the site for testing and analysis are made by the entire class to monitor and interpret parameters tested.

Abstract of Activity:

Project Wetlands began as a school/business partnership between a local environmental engineering firm, CH2M HILL, and biology students at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA. The goal of the project was to create a viable wetlands on a nearby lake to help solve the threat of nutrient imbalance due to the fertilization of surrounding lands. Student project chairs and several environmental engineers formally presented the idea to construct a wetlands to the community governing board, which concurred with the goals of the project. Then through videotaping several possible sites and conducting a variety of field studies, the students and engineers selected the best site for the project. Once the local permits were granted, students and engineers met several times and prepared a detailed work plan to construct the wetlands and designed a long-term plan for its maintenance. Students have learned to monitor and interpret several parameters including temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate and phosphorus content and water velocity, as well as to conduct botanical and zoological surveys.


Materials and requirements:

  • School/business partnership with an environmental engineering firm, Winkler and/or Hoch test kits, submerged plants (Soft Rush, Bull Rush, Crimson Eyed Rose Hallow, Wool Grass, Red Bay, American Three Square, Button Bush, Umbrella Sage), bank plants (Seed Box, Swamp Rose, Black Gum, Red Chokeberry, Red Maple)


  • Task 1: Detailed Design

    • Survey the topography and bathymetry of the site.
    • Update the existing topographic map of the site to show the existing site conditions.
    • Produce plans and specifications for grading, erosion and sediment control, and planting from the updated topographic-bathymetric map of the site. Include a typical section, standard details, title sheets, and legends. Have all plans and specifications examined by a senior engineer reviewer.
    • Deliver complete sets of plans and specifications to community governing board for review and comment.

  • Task 2: Review and Regulatory Approval

    • Determine whether State Joint Permit Application and County Construction Permits are required
    • If necessary, complete a Joint Permit Application for submission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U. S . Army Corps of Engineers.
    • Prepare an application for a County construction permit
    • Submit applications for review and approval

  • Task 3: Application for Funding

    • Create informational packets, including media clips, picture, and description of the site and the project, and submit them to various funding organizations

  • Task 4: Completion of Construction

    • Produce construction contract documents and deliver to community association for soliciting bids
    • Review the bids and submit recommendations
    • Oversee construction for adherence to plans and specifications Perform a postgrade survey upon completion

  • Task 5: Planting

    • Research and select appropriate plants for wetlands
    • Contact plant suppliers to determine availability and cost of the selected wetland plants
    • Order the plants from selected supplier(s); examine the plants and seeds for quality when they arrive
    • Begin planting no later than 2 weeks after site grading to prevent excessive runoff and sediment loading. Oversee planting for adherence to plans and specifications.
    • Conduct a post planting inspection

  • Task 6: Development of Long-Term Monitoring Plan

    • Students will examine the final condition of the site and, on the basis of the examination, will develop a long-term monitoring plan for the site's water quality, stream flow, flora, and fauna that can be used in the high school science program.
    • Obtain information on citizen water-quality monitoring programs
    • Develop and implement preconstruction and construction-monitoring plan
    • Develop and implement long-term site-monitoring plan

Method of Assessment

Each team member will keep a detailed notebook in which copies of all data and notes obtained or executed by that member will be kept. Copies of all calculations, meeting minutes, memos, records, correspondence, and survey data will be placed in the appropriate sections of the notebook. Each team will give an oral presentation to the class on the progress of team's work.


Work with local elementary and intermediate school teachers to develop age-appropriate programs using the wetland, so students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities will become excited about actively learning science.

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