Pictured above is The Reflecting Pond in the center of Penn State Altoona
By: Sierra Snigier
Although named The Reflecting Pond, students cannot see their reflection in the Penn State Altoona pond. The 2.3-acre pond has been the trademark of this campus since the founding of the campus in 1939. Now, in 2018, the pond in my eyes is the biggest eyesore of campus. The condition of the water indicates issues that faces the pond’s health. These issues are outlined in a Pond Study that was completed by seniors studying Environmental Studies in 2010. Temporary solutions and suggestions were also provided by the students for the issues of cleanliness.
Around 2000, Penn State Altoona purchased koi and carp fish to help combat algae that had been forming. Although it prevented the pond from becoming green, a consequence came. Due to the koi not having enough food sources, they started to dredge the bottom, disturbing the sediment and therefore causing the water to turn brown. This sediment and sludge build up also has a culprit, the ducks on campus. Dr. Carolyn G. Mahan Ph.D., a professor in Biology & Environmental Studies, commented on this idea of the ducks being worse for the pond.
“With the ducks, you have their waste entering the pond, which releases nitrogen. Nitrogen is what causes algae, and makes the pond have green slime. Since that was unsightly, they introduced carp and koi to eat that algae. But, the carp and koi still produce waste, and they disturb the sediment on the bottom, giving the pond that muddy look.”. Dr. Mahan said that the koi versus duck issue came down to a matter of “muddy versus green water.”
With the overpopulation of ducks on campus also comes the high amount of duck feces that enters the pond. Their feces accumulates at the bottom, with no way of drainage. This sludge sitting at the bottom of the pond with no way of getting it out causes uncleanliness of the pond. Maximilian Gehringer, a part-time student studying German said,
“I love the peacefulness of the pond. I think having the ducks on campus creates a unique atmosphere to the campus. I enjoy the sounds of the ducks eating in the mud. I don’t believe that the pond is dirty. Yes, it is murky but I don’t think a pond that size is going to be clear water like Bermuda. It’s an ecosystem. It is going to get dirty. Ducks poop.”
The most concerning information out of the 2010 study included the levels of fecal coliform that were found. The study explained that the higher levels indicate a higher probability that bacteria, viruses, and parasites could be present. The effects of having too much fecal matter would be infections to the ears and intestines. Furthermore, diseases like dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever. Grace Veltri, a junior studying accounting attests to the health hazard of the pond, “At first, I thought the pond was nice, but then I realized how dirty it was when my friend swam across the pond and got sick.”
The pond contains several types of bacteria and feces that were outlined in the 2010 study. High nitrogen levels can cause health hazards, and duck feces can make the levels increase more. Phosphorus is critical in plant growth, but too much can ruin the aesthetic value and turn green. Phosphorus can lead to the eutrophication, which is a process that turns the water green from algae and makes recreational activities almost impossible. This is also dependent on the movement of the water. The pond is stagnant, not allowing the water to move and break up these algae and sludge.
The students in the Environmental Studies pond study that some measures could be taken to alleviate some of these environmental issues affecting the pond These include an aeration system to help increase the oxygen levels in the pond water and increase water quality. These systems range from $1,000-$4,000. Barley bales can also control algae blooms. This product is healthy for fish and vegetation. These bales cost $5-$16. Lastly, AQUACLEAR pellets can be used to clean up the sludge and clear the water by removing those nitrogen sources. For two bags, it would cost $500. These costs are relatively cheap, compared to the thousands in investments to fully clean the pond. Although these are not permanent solutions, these small investments can slowly start the rehabilitation for the pond to make it a scenic viewpoint of the campus once again.
Dr. Mahan stated, “What they have to do for a total clean out is drain and remove the sludge. Once removed, the pond can be cleaned and re-filled. This process is highly expensive, and often gets put to the side when considering other campus costs— like opportunities for students.” Although this may seem disheartening, Dr. Mahan stated,
“The easy things that PSUA can do have already been done. The pond is still a habitat for some animals, so it is not inhabitable. The resources for this difficult part of this process will have to come from elsewhere– perhaps from central administration at University Park.”