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Intern Research – Design Solutions for Cleaning our Waterways

Brian Cruz - Architectural Intern

October 27, 2022

Water is one of the most important resources that any living thing needs, but its one that most people overlook.

Over the last 200 years, the world’s waterways have progressively gotten more and more polluted. Here in Indiana, nearly 25,000 miles of our rivers and streams are too polluted for any recreational activities. There are multiple solutions to clean up the world’s waterways – one solution is combining man-made technology with natural processes in the form of wetland parks.


Image Source: ArchDaily

There are multiple ways that waterways get polluted, and some of their effects are more noticeable than others.

Erosion – caused by lack of protection on rivers edge and causes the water to be murky and brown.

Farmland Runoff – water contaminated with farmland minerals (such as fertilizer minerals) or animal waste leaks into river and streams. This can cause algae blooms which kill aquatic life due to lack of oxygen.

Industrial Runoff – waste created by industrial facility that is dumped into rivers.

Stormwater Runoff – water that is not able to seep into the land due to hardscape covering a large portion of cities, sometimes can cause sewage to overflow into rivers when too much rainwater overwhelms the existing sewage infrastructure.

Image Source: Visit Fort Wayne


Farmland, industrial, and stormwater runoff all release chemicals into the waterways.

The main chemicals found in the Fort Wayne waterways include nitrate and nitrite which come from agriculture runoff, septic tanks, and urban runoff. These chemicals cause oxygen deprivation for infants and increase risk for cancer. Arsenic, which is released in agriculture runoff, industry runoff, and dumping, can cause cancer. Atrazine, which is released in herbicide runoff, causes hormone disruptions in males, females, and for people developing fetuses. Chromium (hexavalent) which is released in industry runoff and can naturally occur, can cause cancer. Chlorate, released in agriculture runoff and industry runoff, causes impaired thyroid functions. Coming in contact with this chemical is very harmful during pregnancy and childhood. PFAS compounds are a class of non-stick, waterproof, stain-resistant compounds used in consumer products and industry. PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened childhood immunity and many other health problems. These chemicals have been leaking into our water for decades. Every time an item with the chemical gets washed, a large amount of PFAS leak into the ground water.



A great way to balance man-made filtration methods with nature filtration methods can be found in wetland parks.

These parks use the flow of water to their advantage, moving water through plants, sunlight, and man-made filtration devices. The treatment could include gross pollutant traps, bio-retention systems, vegetated swales, and aeration devices. Water recycled for irrigation is further treated by filtration and UV disinfection. Some benefits of wetland parks include helping the local wildlife by proving food and shelter, teaching people the process of water purification which can be used to showcase the problems with the water found in our rivers, and make locations more aesthetic by adding nature to urban areas.

To maintain clean, healthy rivers, it would be best if there were wetland parks and water treatment plants at multiple locations throughout all of the rivers. Any farm, road, or place along the river’s edge could be polluting the river. In the spirit of keeping things simple and realistic, the most efficient location for a wetland park in Fort Wayne would be where the St. Mary’s and St. Joseph Rivers meet to create the Maumee River. The water treatment plant is not far from this location and this spot would have the most amount of pollution since two rivers meet here. The proximity to downtown, makes this location great as it would attract people to visit the park. The more people begin to understand what is happening in our water, the greater possibility there is for the change of laws and regulations.

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