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Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Botany Pond Restoration Faces Delays, Reopening Date Unclear

The restoration of Botany Pond, which aims to revitalize the pond’s ecosystem and ensure its longevity, was originally slated for completion in the summer of 2023 but faced timeline delays due to the unforeseen scope of the project.
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According to a University spokesperson, the refilling of Botany Pond along with its bridge repairs are set to be completed this spring, with planting and landscaping occurring over the summer. The re-introduction of the pond’s wildlife will be a gradual process that will begin upon the pond’s refilling, with a focus on re-building the pond’s ecosystem from the ground up in order to ensure its self-sufficiency. It is unclear when Botany Pond will be open to the public again.

The Maroon spoke with Michael LaBarbera, Emeritus Professor of Biology and advisor for Botany Pond’s restoration project, to learn more about the project’s aims and timeline. LaBarbera estimated that the re-establishment of the pond’s ecosystem could take six to eight months and would begin before the pond starts accepting visitors.

LaBarbera said a leak amounting to approximately 30,000 gallons of water a month due to the pond’s damaged concrete lining initially prompted the restoration. 

“The leak was the proximate trigger for this [restoration project], but the pond had been going downhill biologically for years before that… This leak of 30,000 gallons a month meant it was time to just start from scratch—to drain the pond, fix the leaks, and then rebuild it,” LaBarbera said.

Originally slated for completion in the summer of 2023, the restoration of Botany Pond has faced many timeline delays due to the scope of the project, according to the University spokesperson. When repairs started on the pond walls, the deteriorating cement underneath the bridge was revealed, prompting a removal of the bridge. “The problem was [the bridge repair] happened in the fall. It’s not a great time to be doing concrete work, and so everything gets pushed back,” LaBarbera said.

The University spokesperson and LaBarbera both emphasize the restoration project’s goal of ensuring the pond’s self-sustainability and longevity. With the draining of the pond, its self-sustaining ecosystem was lost. However, Botany Pond could naturally rebuild its ecosystem over a timeframe of multiple years, and LaBarbera intends to jump-start this process by collecting samples of tiny aquatic animals, such as zooplankton and copepods, and introducing them into the re-filled pond. The plan is for them to have time to reproduce without any predatory fish over several months, so that when the fish are introduced, there will be a well-established food chain. 

The project is carefully taking into consideration the pond’s future flora and fauna, precautions for pond visitors’ safety, and the pond’s history as a biological repository of plants. LaBarbera was part of the team that considered which organisms and plants to build the pond’s restored ecosystem with. 

“We went through a long list and … argued about this one versus that one,” LaBarbera said. “We want plantings that are diverse, and I’ve been pushing really hard to have them put only plants there that are native, so that you get a feel for what would be growing in a natural pond in the Midwest.”

About six feet of mud on the floor of the pond was discovered during the restoration, meaning the true depth of the pond measures nine feet, as opposed to the previous estimation of its depth at 3.5 feet. Due to the discovery of the pond’s significant depth, the project plans for safety measures to be put in place in case someone falls into the water. 

“We can’t have people falling in the pond anymore, because it’s non-trivial to get out. You can’t simply stand up,” LaBarbera said. “So there’s been a lot of discussions making sure that if somebody does fall in the pond, there’s an easy way to get out.”

Along with a repair of the bridge, the project also aims to establish a natural water filtration system that should keep the pond healthy for years to come if properly maintained. 

“I want to see [the pond] last another 100 years. I may not be here to see it last another 100 years, but I want it to last another 100 years,” says LaBarbera.

As for the students who miss Botany Pond’s turtles, LaBarbera’s words may offer them some comfort: “The turtles are at a spa for turtles. There’s a wildlife biologist the University is paying to house the turtles to feed them, keep them healthy, [and] put them back later.”

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    Däryl [Darl] Nelson / Feb 19, 2024 at 9:10 am

    Thank you for this update. I’m so happy to hear that the turtles are being cared for; I look forward to this completed renovation.

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