Environment

Floating island targets bay pollution

If test in lagoon works, technology eventually could be used baywide

By JAMES B. HALE
Capital News Service
The Capital, Published 11/23/09

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said the city intends to test a floating island in a local lagoon that, if successful, could help clean water in the Chesapeake Bay.

On Friday Moyer also announced an eco-friendly renovation of a city parking lot and the creation of a private-public partnership to offer property owners tax-exempt, low-interest loans to install energy-efficient equipment.

The floating island, which would absorb nutrients from the water, will be tested in a lagoon in Back Creek Nature Park.

Floating islands are created from recycled plastic and planted with wetland plants that soak up nutrients from the water when deployed, said Steve Carr, the city's environmental adviser. He said the project in Annapolis will act as a test to see if the technology can be implemented in larger areas of the bay.

"The main goal is to clean up the water quality in the lagoon, and in so doing, show the benefit and application of this technology baywide," Carr said.

Plant roots would extend from the 20-foot-by-20-foot device to soak up nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous from the lagoon, he said. Scientists would monitor the levels of pollutants in the water before and after the island is set up.

Moyer said the island, along with other citywide initiatives, shows that Annapolis is ahead of the curve on environmental projects. She used President Obama's May executive order, which called on the nation to do more to protect the bay, as a backdrop to the process.

"It is, after all, our duty as a local government to continue to meet this charge from the president ... and to offer solutions," she said.

Carr said he initially proposed the island idea on a larger scale to the state, but was told he needed to prove the technology actually worked. Now, with about $300,000 in taxpayer money, he plans on doing just that, he said.

If all goes according to plan, BlueWing, the company that makes the islands, will have one in the lagoon by April 22, the next Earth Day, Carr said.

"The application, if it's successful, is that yes, in fact, these manmade floating islands could ... be put anyplace as an additional resource for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

David Tilley, an associate professor of environmental science and technology at the University of Maryland, said although he's familiar with the floating islands, he hasn't seen anyone use the technology on a scale even as large as a lagoon.

"I think it could prove to be very successful, but you have to try it," he said. "I think it has a lot of potential."

But Tilley warned the plan is only half of solving the water pollution problem. While the islands have potential to rid water of harmful nutrients, they don't stop runoff from getting into the water in the first place, he said.

Carr said the city understands the many issues involved in cleaning the bay. Officials plan on taking a two-pronged approach to the issue: to clean the already polluted water and stop pollution from getting into the water, he said.

"If you have an accident, you have to clean up the accident," Carr said. "The other thing you do is try to prevent accidents."

(Revised December 2009)