Floating wetlands installed to improve water quality in South Bethany canals
South Bethany residents and a local environmental group started installing floating wetlands along many of South Bethany’s canals Tuesday, hopeful they’ll improve water quality that has historically suffered from high levels of nutrients.
Many of South Bethany’s canals have excess nitrogen and phosphorous, which causes algae to grow on the water’s surface. The algae can cause oxygen to fall low enough to harm marine life.
Joe Conway, a member of the South Bethany Property Owners Association and the town’s planning commission, says those algal blooms look like a green mat. They’re hard to miss.
“Big chunks and they're deep. They can be 3 feet deep,” Conway said. “It’s like an iceberg where you just see the tip of it and the rest of it is down below the water.”
Residents and the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays are installing floating wetlands at the end of the town’s dead end canals. The roots of the plants will absorb the nutrients and restore oxygen to the water.
If the wetlands help the oxygen levels in the water, the hope is residents will be able to deploy oysters along the canal bulkheads, said Frank Wisegerber, the chair of the Canal Water Quality Committee.
"Oysters filter 50 gallons of water a day, so therefore we get naturally clean water from a natural resource, but we have to get the oxygen level up so the oysters can live," Wisegerber said.
Andrew McGowan, an environmental scientist with the center, says he expects the wetlands to attract fish and birds.
“It provides an immediate habitat for fish to school under, an immediate platform for birds to fish off of,” McGowan said. “It provides a surface that’s conducive to growth for various biofilms and algae, and that I turn invites zooplankton.”
They plan to analyze the canals in October to see what changes have occurred.
The project received a Community Water Quality Improve Grant from the state for $25,000. South Bethany matched that with about $9,000, bringing the cost to $34,000.