Sweetwater Wetlands provides an interesting combination of both engineering innovations and wildlife benefits.  Bob Knight began the outing by discussing the design aspects of the project.  His initial remarks included comments on the challenges, the cost, the effectiveness, and the benefits of the design.

The challenges included the 20-30 years it took to convince the City fathers that the project was worthy of the $25 million cost.  The project was given a boost when a $45 million dollar price tag for a new wastewater treatment plant was considered as an alternative.  A second challenge is the enormous quantity of trash that flowed into Paynes Prairie when Sweetwater Creek overflowed.  The new design includes a flat concrete catchment basin to facilitate periodic trash removal.

Another important aspect of the design is the three cells where denitrification occurs.  In the aerial photo below the cells appear as a gator head with the overflow channel separating the first cell from the other two.  Bob explained that the gator teeth in cells two and three are actually part of the design to slow the movement of the water so more complete nitrate removal occurs. While most wetlands treatment projects have a boring rectangular design, this one definitely has an artistic touch!

Aerial Photography by Aero Photo and Wharton-Smith, Inc.

Bob remarked that the nitrate levels in the water entering the distribution channel are virtually zero, a great improvement over the old systems.  Since this water will reenter the Floridan Aquifer at Alachua Sink and disperse to our springs, rivers, and sources of drinking water, not enough can be said concerning the importance of this project.

Despite the fact that our outing took place months after the migratory nesting season had ended, on our stroll around the wetland’s paths we observed birds and gators galore.  Osprey, limpkins, purple gallinules, and great blues were among the birds sighted.

Here are two limpkin photos.  The first pair is dining on an apple snail.

The second pair of amorous limpkins put on quite a show.

The next photo captures the spectacular colors of the purple gallinule, who was nesting almost out of sight in the weeds.

A couple of whistling ducks are out for a stroll.

Finally, we cannot forget the mama gator and her babies.

All in all we had an informative and enjoyable day at the wetlands.  Some members of our group have made this pleasant spot part of their daily routine.  The rest are tempted to visit more often.

Photography by Tessa Skiles

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