Arboretum waterway restoration project underway

VENOOS MOSHAYEDI / AGGIE

Collaborative project will provide a cleaner, healthier Arboretum

The thick, green Arboretum waterway is a thing of the past thanks to UC Davis professors and Arboretum staff who are launching exciting new programs to improve water health.

Andrew Fulks, the assistant director of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, is in charge of a program that will launch Feb. 27. According to Fulks, the Arboretum waterway is used as a campus stormwater drainage system and has been maintained in that sense, but not with regard to water health.

“The waterway historically has not had anybody taking care of it from a biological standpoint,” Fulks said.

The Arboretum waterway is naturally inclined to have the infamous green appearance due to environmental factors.

“In terms of how the system functions, its functioning exactly how we would expect when you have [a body of water with] solar exposure in the central valley that is stagnant,” Fulks said. “It is going to naturally grow algae.”

However, Fulks and his team have devised a plan to create a waterway that is healthy and clean.

“We needed to be able to move that water, the input source, all the way to the east end,” Fulks said. “And in order to create flow we had to have elevation change, so the elevation change is going to be these new concrete weirs and they will provide a small drop, enough to keep the water flowing.”

Their vision for the waterway would not only make the water flow, but also change the functionality of the waterway, hopefully garnering more public engagement and making it more wildlife-friendly.

There are also plans to hire an overseer and to change the banks to encourage more biodiversity. The project is expected to be completed over the course of four years in four phases, but that may change as the project advances.

Fulk encourages students to get involved, whether by coming out to watch the construction scheduled to start at the end of this month, or by getting involved in internships offered through the Arboretum.

“We are going to have a student internship […] those students will be working on designing and implementing the restoration of the banks in between the weirs,” Fulks said.

Working with Fulks is Randy Dahlgren, a distinguished professor of soil science who strives to connect the worlds of science research and education. Dahlgren has put together a group of UC Davis undergraduate interns.

“We are learning about water quality, we are learning real world skills that are important in the job, we are learning something of international important because we have waterways like this all over the developing world and in many developed areas,” Dahlgren said.

Dahlgren has worked on similar waterways in China, where he still conducts research.

“One of the things I have been doing for several years in China is looking at these nasty waterways that have no oxygen in them, life if very limited,” Dahlgren said. “[…] One of the things we starting working on there was doing a wetland restoration […] and once we got it done I went, ‘Wow, that’s the same as the Arboretum at UC Davis that I can sample on my bicycle in 30 minutes,’ so it came together for me.”

Dahlgren ran a group internship in Fall Quarter, and will offer one again in the spring in which students collect samples that provide Fulks’ team with feedback on their progress with the waterway.

“This is an opportunity for us to provide information to the restoration people on whether what they’re doing is having any value, so that’s something you often don’t know for quite a few years after you do restoration,” Dahlgren said.

Dahlgren believes that this is crucial for connecting what students learn in the classroom to real life experiences, and he hopes to have many more of these kinds of internships all over campus.

Sue Eebler, the associate dean for undergraduate academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science and a professor of viticulture and enology, believes the project is important to the students and campus.

“It’s an experience that we value,” Eebler said. “Students are not only able to get that hands on experience, but see that right away that things that they do have an impact on their community and their surroundings.”

With the launch of this project, the Arboretum waterway that meanders through the campus has now become a symbol of UC Davis professors, students and campus staffs’ ingenuity.

“This campus is student-run and this [project] is just an extension of that,” Fulks said.
Written by: Emma Askea — science@theaggie.org