Scientist to treat water pollution with artificial wetlands

Dr. Shawn Rosenquist records a sample at the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park research center. He said that a series of small wetlands can be as helpful as a large one and plans to use constructed wetlands to treat stormwater.

Shawn Rosenquist hopes to use Augusta's most developed corridors as a living laboratory.


"There's a lot we can learn here about clean water," the new Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy research scientist said.

A decade ago, the academy used artificial wetlands to clean up polluted water flowing from the city's wastewater plant and transformed the restored area into Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.

Rosenquist, a recent Ph.D. graduate of Virginia Tech's Biological Systems Engineering Department, hopes to use similar tactics to clean up stormwater.

"It's all water treatment," he said. "There are a lot of the same core elements -- and pollutants."

Each time it rains, urban runoff carries bacteria, sediment, metals and other pollutants into waterways and storm drains.

Just as the academy's 360-acre wetland project helped clean up sewage, smaller wetlands in populated areas can filter stormwater and reduce stream pollution.

"We'll be looking at how we use constructed wetlands to treat stormwater," he said, adding that urban areas present challenges different from sewage treatment programs.

Developed areas, for example, have low availability for wetland sites -- and higher land values that can make such projects costly.

By comparison, sewage programs are typically built in more remote areas where large acreage is available for wetlands construction, he said.

Rosenquist believes a series of small wetlands can be just as beneficial to the environment as a single large one -- and hopes future research will shed new light on such opportunities.

One idea gaining popularity is the use of retention ponds -- built around large developments to collect and disperse stormwater -- as artificial wetlands.

"Our research could take us in a lot of different directions," he said.

Rosenquist, who moved to Augusta in June, studied stormwater and pollution issues as part of his graduate work.

He is also the recipient of several awards, including the 2010 Outstanding Doctoral Student for Virginia Tech's College of Engineering and the 2010 Boyd-Scott Graduate Research Award from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.