By RALF GRUENKE
A new man-made wetland area in Provo will be completed by early summer on the south end of Rotary Bicentennial Park.
The creation of the wetland became necessary when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required the City of Provo to replace the wetland lost by the planned construction of the new Provo Towne Center shopping mall.
“We probably won’t be meeting the end of March deadline,” Roger Thomas said. Thomas, Provo Parks and Recreation Director, said the project had several phases.
“The first part was to lower the ground level by six to 30 inches,” Thomas said. Removing the topsoil required building a temporary road. This first phase has been completed, Thomas said.
The city then started planting wetland materials, Thomas said. Several volunteer groups will help with planting the material, according to Thomas. Last week, a number of LDS church volunteer groups were involved in the project.
“We still need numerous volunteers,” Thomas said. Individuals willing to help with the project may call Provo Parks and Recreation at 379-6601.
Thomas said he hopes the planting phase will be completed by the end of April.
The final phase will include creating a public boardwalk and setting up interpretative signs that will explain the nature of wetlands and wetland species.
The boardwalk did not need to be part of the project required by the corps of engineers, Thomas said.
Wetlands are vital to the survival of various animals and plants, including threatened and endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that up to 430 of the threatened and endangered species rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for their survival.
Even though the original wetlands that the new Provo Towne Center will be built on are only over an acre in size, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers insisted Provo replace it by creating a man-made wetland area.
“It’s a very, very small wetland,” Thomas said. He said the city is committed to submit itself to the requirement of the corps of engineers.
“I know this type of thing is fairly common in our days,” said David Buie, wildlife biologist from the North American Wetlands Conservation Council.
Buie said humans creating wetlands is difficult and cause unexpected problems.
“Most of the data I’ve seen show mixed results,” Buie said. Some of the man-made wetlands dry out after a while, he said.
“We’re kind of concerned about them,” Buie said. “On the paper, everything looks very balanced, but in reality it often isn’t.”
If the location for a newly created wetlands isn’t carefully selected, the soil may not support a wetland, Buie said.
The city has counseled with IHI Environmental, a consulting firm based in Salt Lake City, to avoid unexpected problems.
“A lot of people don’t realize the importance of soil,” said Harriet Whitson, who has worked for IHI Environmental for nine years and has been involved as a consultant for the project. Whitson is a BYU graduate student studying soil science. Her thesis work is related to wetland soils.
Whitson said the company helped with deciding the location and creating a strategy on how to create the wetland.
“It’s a fabulous location,” Whitson said. There already are two ponds in the area, a natural slope and mature willows — a forest often associated with wetlands, Whitson said.
Dennis Shiozawa, zoology professor at BYU, said man-made wetlands usually differ from the naturally developed ones.
“If you go into a system and say we’re going to create a wetland here, species that live in wetlands might not have any access to the new area,” Shiozawa said.
Whitson said that bringing in natural wetland species may be a concern.
“About all you can do is to bring in the plants and hope that the animals will come,” Whitson said.
Work on the new wetland began Feb. 13. The final phase of creating the boardwalk will probably not be completed until the early summer, said David Gunn, Provo public services director.