December 8, 2016

Plans transform pond from cesspool to amphitheatre

The Webster University retention pond located behind the Garden Park Plaza Parking Garage will soon be used for much more than a means to collect storm water runoff. The retention pond is already undergoing transformation into an area for Webster students and the community to relax and enjoy performances.

A map displaying the plans for the development of the retention pond into an area for research, reflection and recreation was created in 2011 by students in the department of biological sciences. The map includes a research storage shed, a seating area on a deck that overlooks the pond and an amphitheater.

Natural Area Coordinator and Webster University science lecturer Jeff DePew said the retention pond was dug about 40 years ago, but it was not until four years ago that the area went from a detention pond (a dry-bottom pond) to a retention pond (a wet-bottom pond).

The retention pond provides a cheaper means to treat the water before it transfers to the sewers, as mandated by the Clean Water Act of 1972.

“While the water is being held the cattails are treating it,” DePew said. “The cattails are pulling out any bad stuff that comes off of the walkways, sidewalks and streets that settle down into the pond.”

Cattails are wetland plants, usually 3-to-10 feet tall with spongy, strap-like leaves, a stalky stem and clusters of minute brown flowers. DePew said for his Webster Works Worldwide community service project this year, he and a few of his students planted $3000 worth of plants to surround the retention pond. The money was granted to the science department from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

However, plants are not the only species that can be found at the retention pond. There are five species of frogs, seven species of birds and about 17 types of dragonflies that have been discovered among the 2 1/2 acres of the natural area.

Many of these species have been discovered by students who conduct research and experiments for class or on their own. Senior biology major Colleen Walsh is using her research at the retention pond for her senior thesis. She is trying to map out the genus and species of anaerobic bacteria, or bacteria that do not live in the presence of oxygen, which she has discovered in the pond.

Walsh transferred to Webster in fall of 2012 from St. Louis Community College in Wildwood, and she said there were not many hands-on  opportunities for research this close to campus. She said she appreciates the location and the experimental education the retention pond provides Webster students.

“It’s been really nice not having to travel and take all of the samples and all of the equipment with me,” Walsh said.       “It’s nice to just have it right here and be able to walk to it and use it as needed.”

Mary Preuss, assistant professor and coordinator of the department of biological sciences, also takes advantage of the convenient location of the retention pond. Every two months she tests the bacterial diversity of the pond. She said each experiment produces different results because there have been several changes to the pond and the area around it.

An aerator was installed to create a healthier pond by increasing the oxygen saturation of the water. In addition, Webster students, staff and the sustainability coalition have conducted several cleanup efforts.

“They have put a lot of effort into making it more aesthetic,” Preuss said. “Otherwise it ends up being this sort of-cesspool that’s kind of dark and stinky.”

DePew predicts the retention pond, which at its deepest point is 20 feet deep, will turn into a natural area the students and Webster community can enjoy in about three years. DePew said in order for that to happen the science department will have to continue their beautification efforts, but the Webster community will have to back them up as well.

“We’ve got to keep the bunny rabbits and the muskrats out,” Depew said. “We’ve got to keep the well-meaning students who are playing Frisbee from tromping on an area that just got planted. We’ve got to keep people from throwing junk onto the driveways and into the parking lots. So it’ll be up to our community really, but it has the potential to be this fabulous area which will really be a big feather in the cap of Webster University sustainability.”

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