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Wetlands and Blue Water: Fountain City Lake's Water Quality Reflects Years of Careful Stewardship 
Visit Fountain City Lake this summer, and you'll notice two things: Lush, thriving wetlands and the water's pleasant blue hue.

Both are the back-end reward for an eight-year effort to persistently and carefully manage the spring-fed lake and return its ecosystem to good health.

This summer, enjoy watching the Fountain City Lake wetlands bloom.

Waterfowl prefer the shade and shelter of the wetlands for their nests, City stormwater engineers say.

Earlier this year, as new accessible sidewalks were being built around portions of the lake, City stormwater engineers took advantage of the lowered water levels and lack of visitors to double down on their efforts to reinvigorate the wetlands.

Seeds were sown, plants installed and bulbs buried. Plants such as marsh mallow, arrow arum, soft rush, sweet flag, ironweed, scarlet hibiscus, bottom bush and swamp sunflower were introduced. Of the roughly 20 species that were coaxed and nurtured, a diverse mix survived and prospered; the wetlands on the shallow north end of Fountain City Lake are especially thick, robust and as tall as the people walking past them.

Ducks and turtles can be seen darting between the plants and splashing in and out of the water.

The wetlands on the north side of Fountain City Lake provide habitat for waterfowl to nest.

"With this natural habitat, the ducks feel safer and less exposed," says David Hagerman, the City's Stormwater Engineering Manager. "There's shading and shelter, so the birds are calm and relaxed and able to nest."

That was an integral part of the larger lake restoration plan when the wetlands were first created a few years back. The goal was to remove the most shallow, stagnant parts of the lake - the perfect growing conditions for out-of-control algae. The wetlands plants also thrive on and absorb duck feces, which in turn removes the waste from the lake.

"In effect, the plants are sucking this fertilizer out of the water," Hagerman says. "That means there's less fertilizer to nourish the algae."

Another benefit: Ducks that enjoy the wetlands and choose to shelter there are less likely to leave their nests to go defecate on the sidewalk ringing the lake.

Meanwhile, blue dye is being periodically added to Fountain City Lake. It's safe and produces a pretty blue color, but the main benefit isn't aesthetics. The dyed water is slightly more opaque, which blocks some of the sunlight that heats the water. The purpose is to further discouraging algae from growing rampantly in the hot summer months.

A blue dye added to the water of Fountain City Lake produces a pretty blue color, but the main benefit is to block some sunlight and discourage algae from growing in the hot summer months.

"I compare it to people wearing sunglasses," says Stormwater Chief Chris Howley. "Sunglasses protect your eyes and block some but not all of the harmful rays. But you still wouldn't look right at the sun.

"So I joke that the dye is like sunglasses for a lake. It offers the lake some protection. It certainly helps in terms of decreasing the sunlight that enters and heats the water and accelerates the algae growth.

"But the dye alone won't prevent algae. Neither will the wetlands or the water aeration. Each is a useful tool. But it takes everything working together."

About a year ago, the City accepted the Lions Club's offer to donate Fountain City Lake and Park. Both park visitors and City leaders appreciate the Fountain City Lions Club's loving care for the park for so many decades, but maintaining these 8 acres has become increasingly expensive - especially managing the lake.

In recent years, the City has committed more than $1 million to improve the water quality of Fountain City Lake and to improve amenities in the park.

Starting in 2014, the City began a series of lake restoration steps, including fixing a leak in the lake’s earthen berm so that the lake’s water levels could be managed and repairing the fountain and pump house to aerate the water. The initial wetlands were planted to remove shallow, stagnant areas that were conducive to algae growth. Thick layers of muck and duck feces, algae and invasive plants have also been removed from the lake.

Hagerman says managing an ecosystem requires patience and constant diligence.

"It's more of a marathon than a sprint," he says.

But there's a gratifying payoff, when the water is clear enough to support urban fishing, and visitors can entertain themselves by counting plant species, turtles and duck nests.

Here's what Fountain City Lake looked like at the start of July. Enjoy this photo gallery!

Wetlands and fountain at Fountain City lake, June 2022

Officials say feeding waterfowl the wrong diet can be harmful to them. Food dispensers with healthy pellets are located lakeside.

The Fountain City Lake fountain, as seen from a vantage point at the lake's northwest end.

Wetlands and the Fountain City Lake fountain

Ducks at Fountain City Lake these days are more likely to be found in the wetlands habitat than out on the concrete sidewalks.
Posted by evreeland On 14 July, 2022 at 11:48 AM