A phased phytoremediation strategy is being used to effectively develop an alternative vegetative cap using shrub willows on former industrial land in Camillus, NY. The substrate in this area is a byproduct of soda ash production using the Solvay process that occurred in the area from 1884 – 1986. This substrate has a high pH, low nutrient content, limited structure and elevated salt concentrations making it a difficult growing environment for plants. The goal of the project is to develop and deploy an effective vegetative cover that will reduce the percolation of chloride salts into groundwater and surrounding surface water and simultaneously produce a source of woody biomass for the production of renewable energy. Several steps were involved in the phased phytoremediation strategy including screening of willow varieties in a greenhouse, small scale field tests of willow varieties on the site, and trials with different locally available organic amendments to create conditions that would support the rapid growth of willows. Over the years the system has been tested and refined. With the proper combination of organic amendments and site preparation, willow production on this site has reached, and in some cases exceeded, levels that have been measured on agricultural soils in the region. The system is now being deployed at the site and through the spring of 2015 almost 50 ha are in place. An ongoing program of monitoring, optimizing the system and screening new willow varieties is underway to ensure the long term performance of this vegetative cap.
This project is supported by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30407 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).