On a rainy March afternoon, environmental science major Jacob Constans stands knee-deep in a muddy creek bed that flows through a local farm.
Located about 15 miles south of campus, the farm grows produce for Portland State’s dining services.
Constans and two other students, Bobby Nuvolini and Jonah Horn, got permission from Baggensto’s Farm to build and plant a 100-foot bioswale—a vegetated channel to filter farm runoff into the creek, which ends up in the Tualatin River. Today, they measure and mark the project area with stakes and take baseline water samples.
“It’s great to be out here and apply what we’re learning in the field,” Constans says.
Once the bioswale is constructed, they will compare levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water above and below the bioswale to gauge its effectiveness at filtering pollution.
The thirsty roots of native, water-tolerant plants like sedges will soak up excess nitrogen and phosphorus that would otherwise flow downstream.
“We’re hoping that the data points to implementing this on a larger scale.”
Horn, a geography major, will use GIS to identify the drainage pattern of the creek flowing into the Tualatin River. “I plan on mapping all agricultural land use associated with this drainage area to possibly show other suitable areas for bioswale introduction in the future,” he says.
Nuvolini hopes to earn a master’s degree in forestry after he graduates from PSU. “This is why I came back to school, to be able to work in the outdoors and make a difference in the world we live in.”
Geography professor Heejun Chang is advising the students on their research. “Eventually, we hope that the project will help improve water quality in local streams. It’s great to see the students working closely with area farmers to test possible solutions,” he said.
The students will monitor the bioswale through 2014. Until then, an educational kiosk at the farm will display information about the bioswale project for visitors.
The project is one of 13 selected for the 2012 Solutions Generator, which funds student ideas to make campus and community more sustainable.
Now in its third year, the Solutions Generator is offered by the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at PSU. Other selected projects include a new campus composting system, community orchard, and bicycle track.Explore the 2012 Solutions Generator