Students hope to improve water quality of St. Paul’s Sarita Wetland

by Branden Peterson

Water Resources Students in Action members carried their waders and rakes into the Sarita Wetland on Tuesday afternoon in continued efforts to monitor and improve conditions in the St. Paul campus wetland.

Members agreed it was a dirty job to clean up the watershed that many individuals on the campus’ southeast corner do not know exists. But they said it is also a valuable resource they hope to improve.

For years, the wetland has gathered loads of trash, sediment and other pollutants that float in storm water running into the area.

The wetland is the draining location for water runoff from Falcon Heights, Minn., the St. Paul campus and portions of the Minneapolis campus.

Pollutants have combined from traffic at the fairgrounds, St. Paul campus fields fertilizer runoff and community drainage.

University classes have used the wetland as a “living classroom” for water quality courses.

With more funding, University students and faculty hope to restore the area.

An annual pollutant of the wetland is the Minnesota State Fair. After the fair, Water Resources Students in Action members said, the wetland will be flooded with white State Fair cups.

Last year, they found a pile of onions left behind from the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”

Now, Water Resources Students in Action members are lending a hand in a long-range plan to improve the area.

The group works in the wetland to clean up trash, leaves and tree branches that can prevent water from running into a storm drain before flowing into the Mississippi River.

For the past year, the group has also been gathering water samples to determine the water’s composition.

“This is a great opportunity for students to learn about wetlands and water quality, and it’s great to give back to campus,” Water Resources Students in Action co-president Matt Hudson said.

Hudson said no data had been collected from the wetland in the past, but because the area collects water from such a large area, environmentalists have grown concerned and desire information.

Trash is the only pollutant identified as a threat so far, but environmentalists want to ensure any possible pollutants are caught before they can flow into the Mississippi River.

“The University has an impact in what water’s running into the Mississippi,” Hudson said. “We have an opportunity to have a role in that.”

For the past year, water samples have been collected after every weather event and sent to the Ramsey County Water Chemistry Lab for analysis. Water Resources Students in Action members and University environmentalists are still awaiting results.

Water Resources Students in Action Co-President Valerie Were said water resource science students can learn about water quality issues and management in classrooms, but “it’s another thing to have a live thing like this outside.”

Students hope future improvements will include bringing back wildlife and cleaner water, and building a surrounding path and holding pond.

Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]