By: Carlos A. Ramirez-Vargas
Department of Bioscience – Aarhus University (Denmark)
Between 21st and 25th of September 2017, Big Sky – USA, the biggest ski resort in North America, received with arms wide open to the participants of the 7th International Symposium for Wetland Pollutants Dynamics and Control (WETPOL). For the first time held in the Americas, it gathered 195 professionals from 25 countries around the world, with a diversity of backgrounds raging from ecologist, biologist, chemist, engineers, consultants, stakeholders and scientists interested in wetland issues.
The contents of the conference include different topics dealing with constructed wetlands for waste water treatment (from urban, industrial and agricultural origins), wetlands and bioswales for storm water treatment / aquifers recharge, wetland’s biogeochemistry and restoration / preservation of natural wetlands. The beginning of each conference day (apart of morning coffee and chatting with old and new colleagues), was dedicated to plenary sessions with keynotes speech dealing with interesting experiences in wetland management, the link with water resource management, and trends in wetland’s research.
The keynote speeches, include a local example presented by Ron Edwards (General Manager – Big Sky County Water & Sewer District 363), explaining the different strategies implemented by the local authorities of Big Sky county, to protect the water quality of the Gallatin River watershed, the construction and operation of water infrastructure, the monitoring and protection of water resources and associated ecosystems (including wetlands), and strategy for environmental education/protection.
Apart of the wetland topics dealt in the conference, Prof. Brent Peyton (director of the Thermal Biology Institute – Montana State University), gave a glimpse about the microbial ecology of the thermal features of Yellowstone National Park. In his speech, Prof. Peyton explained the experience of his team related to the understanding of biochemical mechanisms and geochemical processes of thermos-tolerant organisms (bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoans and plants), their potential applications to develop new bioremediation technologies based on biofilms, including constructed wetlands.
Whereas Dr. Jaime Nivala (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Germany) in a majestic presentation took the audience on a journey through time, explaining the evolution of constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment (dating back the beginning of 60’s), and the comparison of the current perspective between North America and Europe. Her presentation explained the evolution on the understanding of processes inside wetlands that allow to treat wastewater, the adaptations of constructed wetlands incorporating different technologies to intensify their treatment capacity, their integration into local water cycles, and trending developments / applications of the technology.
Within the new technological trends, the combination of constructed wetlands and bio-electrochemical systems arises as a promising field. In a full section dedicated to this, I had the opportunity to give two oral presentations about the advances of my PhD research. The first presentation was focussed on establishing the capacity and removal rates for organic matter and nutrients in an electoactive biofilm-based constructed wetland (EABB-CW), and the second was focused on the correlation between removal rates of organic matter and nutrients with the presence of electroactive bacteria, through the record of electron current densities. For me it was a great opportunity to share the advances of my research with the audience, and most important, to recieve interesting questions, comments and suggestions that will contribute to its development.
The conference was not only focussed on oral presentations, but also include four optional field trips, matching the different interest of the assistants. The first trip was dedicated to visit in Bozeman county (Montana) some treatment wetlands adapted to cold weather, and a wetland-flood plain restauration project over the Gallatin river. The second trip, took the participants to the historic town of Ennis (Montana), and it was possible to visit a wastewater treatment facility based on floating island (a type of constructed wetlands based on floating mats with emergent macrophytes), and a 500-acre wetland restoration near Ennis, on the Madison Valley. The third trip took the participants to the city Butte (Montana), to visit the Silver Bow Creek, which was submitted to a to a huge remediation and reconstruction project (awarded worldwide), which allowed the reestablishment of fish and wildlife populations and the restoration of adjacent wetlands. And a fourth trip (option that I selected), took the participants to the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (one of the biggest complexes of wetlands, lakes, and riparian habitats in the Greater Yellowstone Area), that serves as primary rehabilitation area for the Trumpeter Swan population in the United States. In this trip, we learned about the conservation strategies of aquatic birds, the management of moose and elk populations and the recovery of the Artic Grayling, threatened by the presence of non-native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
Apart of the conferences and field trips, coffee breaks, lunches and pre-conference activities allowed the participants to meet old colleagues as well as to make new contacts. In my case, I hold conversations with prestigious professors like Curtis Richardson from Duke University (expert on wetland restoration and stream functions on landscape), and with Eng. Scott Wallace, co-author of two of the leading textbooks on wetland treatment design: Treatment Wetlands, Second Edition, and Small-Scale Constructed Wetland Wastewater Treatment Systems.
In the final plenary session of the conference, it was decide the next venue for WETPOL conference. It is a pleasure for me to announce that my institution, Aarhus University, was selected for such a great honour. The next WETPOL conference will be held in summer 2019 and details about the organization of the event will be release in due time. Also, for those interested in the topic and the researches presented in WETPOL 2017, there is a book of abstracts available in the web page http://wetpol.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/BookofAbstracts_Website.pdf.
Finally, I want to thank to IRASE network for providing me the financial support to attend this conference, which allows me to share the advances of my research, receive comments and suggestions for my work, as well as allowed me to update my knowledge regarding this thrilling field.