Mike Krings/University Relations

Students from the Potter Lake Project and staff from the Kansas Biological Survey and Design and Construction Management place an aerator in Potter Lake. Three aerators and a skimmer were placed in the lake to help fish survive and remove excessive plant growth. Pictured, from left, are Russell Benke, electrical engingeer, Design and Construction Management; Jason Hering, student; Matt Nahrstedt, student leader of the Potter Lake Project; Scott Campbell, research associate, Kansas Biological Survey; and Jerry DeNoyelles, professor ecology and evolutionary biology.

Group takes steps to clean up Potter Lake, help fish survive, thrive

Aerators, skimmer installed in campus pond

The fish were supposed to eat the excessive vegetation in Potter Lake. But the plants turned out to be too prolific, and it wasn’t a fair fight, so a group of concerned students and staff stepped in to help the Asian grass carp clean up the venerable campus lake.

The Potter Lake Project, a student group dedicated to preserving and restoring the historic part of campus, set out on the lake late last month with the help of staff from the Kansas Biological Survey and Design and Construction Management to install three underwater aerators.

The aerators, anchored by concrete at three points around the lake, will help oxygenate the water. The aeration system forces air through a diffuser creating small bubbles that rise to the surface. The bubbles introduce oxygen to the bottom of the pond and mix the water layers. Excessive plant life and decayed material was taking too much oxygen from the water, causing some of the fish to die. Fourteen adolescent Asian grass carp were placed in the lake in March as part of the Potter Lake project.

The fish were introduced to eat the vegetation and decomposing plant material that routinely expanded, causing water quality and odor problems. On the day the group dropped the aerators, a fine green layer of mossy sludge composed of small floating plants duckweed and watermeal covered the lake’s surface. A student helping in the effort compared its appearance to that of a golf course green.

“Adding the grass carp is a biological control that is pretty benign,” Scott Campbell, a research associate with the Kansas Biological Survey, said when the fish were introduced. “They typically lounge around the shore, grazing on vegetation like a cow or a manatee.”

The fish were donated free of charge by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

The students also installed a “skimmer” that will draw in water, filter out the green muck, and return it, clean, to the lake.

Matt Nahrstedt and Melissa Allen, students leading the effort, said the aerators and skimmer should make a noticeable difference in the lake by early September. The installation of the aerators is one step in maintaining a healthy ecological balance for the long-term life of the campus lake. Last spring the group completed a master plan regarding the lake’s vegetation, water quality and ecology and presented it to campus administrators, with recommendations for future measures.

“This is an in-between step of sorts, as opposed to dredging the lake, which would be ideal, but would cost thousands of dollars,” Allen said. “This is a cost-effective way of rejuvenating the lake.”

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Paulette Spencer, Dean E. Ackers Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, director, Bioengineering Research Center

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