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Returning to (wet) roots

Ecology center

Above is the proposal of the artificial wetland that would be located next to the Lower East Side Ecology Center's composting facility in East River Park. Photo courtesy of the Lower East Side Ecology Center.

If the Lower East Side Ecology Center gets its wish, a piece of East River Park will be returning to a simpler time -- with all of Lower Manhattan standing to benefit.

Recently, the center has begun a push for donations to create an artificial wetland in a 0.6-acre plot of land in the park’s southern end along Cherry Street in near proximity to the center’s in-vessel compost processing system. The project has already received approval from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The cost of the project should fall somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million (those interested in donating should visit this site).

“Compared to things you can build, it’s a relatively modest capital budget to turn what is basically a space filled with dust and dirt and a little bit of pavement into a green space that would really amazing both environmental asset and educational facility,” said Caroline Kruse, the center’s development director.

By using a system involving a series of channels that cleans the runoff and its resulting nitrate and phosphate-rich composting leachate through a process called eutrophication. The runoff would eventually be filtered into a pond full of goldenrods, milkweed, bullrush, cardinal flower, cattails and other plants that thrive in such environment.

Such a system (see infographic above) would result in little to no additional discharge into the city’s water table -- only clean water, according to Paul Mankiewicz, the executive director of The Gaia Institute who will oversee the construction of the artificial wetland.



Bullrush, seen here at an artificial wetland on the grounds of the Sims Metal Management recycling facility in Hunts Point on the Bronx River, should be plentiful in the proposed artificial wetland that in Manhattan's East River Park. Photo courtesy of The Gaia Institute.

“It’s quite beautiful to take the organic waste of a major urban center like New York and it to turn in basically, compost…. but to be able to take it and literally affect that transformation in a central city in Manhattan right on East River Park and to literally turn into what otherwise would be waste materials into the native wetland meadows that were here to greet Henry Hudson [in 1609] that the natives lived with for…. is pretty exceptional,” he said.

Mankiewicz has been building and studying artificial wetlands for 30 years. His résumé includes a stormwater runoff system at the MTA parking lot in Brooklyn and the Sims Metal recycling facility in Hunts Point on the Bronx River. He said the proposed project would be the first of its kind that processed runoff from a composting operation in the five boroughs.

Mankiewicz has arranged a partnership with Sims to make the ground floor of the wetlands out of a pure silica recycled-glass aggregate. The material is highly porous, so roots can grow through it, while supporting microbial growth just like a stone.

The Lower East Side Ecology Center has two locations that serve the local community year-round: at its compost stand Union Square on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and at its community garden on the north side of East 7th Street between avenues A and B on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What is collected eventually makes its way to the center’s in-vessel compost processing system was located in East River Park from 1998 to 2009, when the construction in the park led to move to a temporary site in Coleman Park. The initial hope was to have the wetlands up and running when the center moved back to East River Park. 

Although the sight of wetlands might not stand out in such an urban jungle such as New York, Mankiewicz pointed out that in its primitive days the city was once surrounded by 70 square miles of intertidal wetlands, which helped form the current oases of green spaces such as Van Cortland Park, Central Park and Prospect Park.

 “We don’t notice them except they happen to add… enormous value to the real estate around it and this one will, too,” Mankiewicz said.

Have you dropped off food scraps at either of the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s sites? What are your thoughts on having an artificial wetlands in Lower Manhattan? As always, we welcome your feedback.


The artificial wetland would feature plants that thrive under extreme nitrate exposure such as cardiflower, goldenrod and milkweed (pictured above). Photo courtesy of The Gaia Institute. 



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