Our network

Arkansas Tech Students, Faculty Build Stormwater Treatment Wetland | Community Spirit

Title (Max 100 Characters)

Arkansas Tech Students, Faculty Build Stormwater Treatment Wetland
Arkansas Tech Students, Faculty Build Stormwater Treatment Wetland

Few causes are more important to the average college student than the freedom of a summer day.

But Arkansas Tech University student Kevin Schanke was more than happy to invest a day of his summer in a project that he hopes will benefit the world around him.

Schanke is part of a group of students and faculty from Arkansas Tech that is giving Mother Nature a helping hand by planting and monitoring a stormwater treatment wetland in Logan County.

Funded by a $26,132 grant from Tyson Foods Inc. River Valley Animal Foods, the Arkansas Tech faculty and students planted a variety of emergent and submerged native plants in a man-made wetland adjacent to the River Valley Animal Foods plant in Scranton on June 27.

“It was interesting to be a part of a proactive approach,” said Schanke, a graduate student from Kenosha, Wis., who is near completion of his Master of Science degree in fisheries and wildlife science at Arkansas Tech. “I’ve been involved in some reactive approaches and after the fact projects, but talking to the managers at the plant and some of the ideas they have, I hope this is the way business starts to go. It seems that investing a little now can save a lot of money down the road. I really care about environmental impact, so the idea of preventing damage is much more interesting to me.”

Dr. Rosemary Burk, assistant professor of biology at Arkansas Tech and principal investigator for the grant, explained that the project is designed to improve the water quality from stormwater runoff.

“This opportunity presented itself when River Valley Animal Foods, a subsidiary of Tyson Foods, had the foresight to transform a section of its property into a stormwater treatment wetland,” said Burk. “The wetland cell that we planted on June 27 is designed to allow for the initial slowing of stormwater so that sediments can settle out slowly and do not go further downstream. Wetland plants were selected based upon their demonstrated effectiveness in improving water clarity, reducing nutrients and soil erosion.

“That was the main objective, but River Valley Animal Foods was also very interested in making sure the selected plants were native and resembled what you might find in a non-constructed wetland in Arkansas,” continued Burk. “In that way, it’s not only meeting the important criteria of reducing nutrients and sediment, but once it’s established it will also provide habitat for frogs, aquatic insects, migratory birds and fish.”

Dr. Eric Lovely, associate professor of biology at Arkansas Tech, and Joe Snow, research scientist at the University of North Texas, joined Burk in providing oversight for the wetland planting project.

In addition to Schanke, other Arkansas Tech students participating in the wetland planting included Akaninyene Atat, a graduate student in emergency management from Lagos, Nigeria; James Foster, an undergraduate student in emergency management from Russellville; and Cole White, an undergraduate student in environmental biology from Scranton.

Megan House of Mena, a senior undergraduate student majoring in environmental biology, will train her fellow Arkansas Tech students in sample processing and conducting field work over the next three months as Tech students and faculty work to ensure the newly constructed wetland takes hold.

“I’m really excited to see how the project works out,” said House. “Helping the ecosystem is helping mankind. I am really grateful to have this experience.”

Burk said that students will monitor the colonization of aquatic invertebrates in association with native wetland plants as an indicator of increasing wetland function and water quality.

For students like House and Schanke, the opportunity to learn in the laboratory of the great outdoors is an invaluable experience.

“As an undergraduate, one of the mistakes I felt that I made was not taking advantage of a lot of the field opportunities that were available outside the classroom,” said Schanke. “As a graduate student, I have learned that a lot of your real-world experience doesn’t come from a book; it comes from getting out there and doing. It’s also a great way to connect with professionals in the field. Since I’ve started graduate school, I have volunteered for everything that has come my way. It makes you a better job candidate.”