Iowa State landscape architecture professor Mimi Wagner earns regional honors


AMES, Iowa — An Iowa State University landscape architecture professor has been honored for two projects addressing water quality in Iowa.

Associate Professor Mimi Wagner received a 2011 Award of Excellence in Research for "Residential Bioretention Reduces Runoff" and a 2011 Merit Award in Planning and Analysis for "Developing Water Trails in Iowa" at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Central States Conference, May 5 in Des Moines.

The Award of Excellence is the highest award presented by the regional conference, which includes the Great Plains (North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska), Iowa, Oklahoma, Prairie Gateway (Kansas and Missouri) and St. Louis chapters of the ASLA. This year's awards were juried by the Dallas/Fort Worth section of ASLA Texas.

Wagner's residential bioretention project was completed for the Ames Public Works Department as part of a much larger stream-restoration effort funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Bioretention cells were constructed in the yards of 14 homes on the Emerson Drive cul-de-sac in Ames.
Cells were designed to look like landscaped areas with local rock and native vegetation.
Canoe launch location criteria provide important slope and angle design information for low-impact launches.

The project involved 14 homeowners on the Emerson Drive cul-de-sac in Ames in an effort to manage the amount of stormwater runoff from their roofs, driveways and lawns. Residents worked with Wagner's landscape architecture students to convert portions of their yards into special gardens, which include bioretention cells, vegetated filters and native landscaping to divert as much runoff as possible from the storm drain system and adjacent College Creek.

Following construction of the gardens, monitoring showed significantly less stormwater entered College Creek from the Emerson Drive cul-de-sac compared to a control area, Wagner said. This is important because urban runoff often contains high concentrations of bacteria and nutrients such as nitrogen that pollute local waterways. Reducing the volume of urban stormwater runoff also can reduce streambank erosion.

"Participants have reported a sense of satisfaction with their contribution to water-quality enhancement," Wagner said.

Wagner's other award-winning project, "Developing Water Trails in Iowa," is a comprehensive guide to help professional landscape architects and others to design water trail infrastructure—such as canoe launches, signage and recreational parking—that increases public access, reduces the impact to stream health and draws more attention to water quality issues in the state.

With funding from the Iowa DNR, Wagner led the team that generated the design manual. The team coordinated input from nearly 1,000 Iowans on their concerns and interests related to waterways. They collaborated with stream restorationists and engineers from multiple states to develop appropriate guidelines for common conditions in the Midwest (steep stream banks, frequent flooding, etc.). Paddlers with disabilities and their advocates consulted with the team on launch design, and biologists developed processes during the design and construction phases to minimize disruption to biological resources.

"Prior to this project, most water trails in the state were developed without professional design collaboration," Wagner said. "Iowa is now developing more than 1,500 miles of water trails using these guidelines. And the manual is being used all over the country to build trails and design launches."

The manual also is garnering national attention. American Rivers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of North American rivers, recognized "Developing Water Trails in Iowa" as an important resource for protecting river heritage and connecting communities and landscapes.

Mimi Wagner, Landscape Architecture, (515) 294-8954,
Heather Sauer, College of Design communications, (515) 294-9289,