Barrett Studio Architects PC of Boulder has provided an elegant solution for a client’s home: It’s a constructed wetland.
Constructed wetlands work in conjunction with the home’s septic system. Water from the septic tank moves through a secondary treatment process, removing the solid materials. Then it sends that cleaned water to a site that has been built to mimic a natural wetland. Once there, the water undergoes the naturally occurring biological, chemical and physical processes of a wetland to further purify it.
The result is a beautiful and natural habitat for animals and birds.
“It’s beautiful,” said Sam Nishek, principal and LEED certified architect with Barrett Studio Architects. “The constructed wetland (area on the property) provides a visual and wildlife water source and it’s a landscape feature that gets at least one more use out of the water when you have a wetlands on your site.”
According to the Onsite Wastewater Demonstration Project being conducted by Northern Arizona University’s College of Engineering, surface flow-constructed wetlands most resemble a natural wetlands area, in appearance as well as functionality.
Surface-flow wetlands maintain the necessary saturation, anywhere from 4 to 18 inches deep above the soil for much of the year. Typical wetlands plants include sedges, rushes and grasses whose roots, stems and leaves provide the surface area to catch any debris left in the water so that waste-consuming bacteria can have at it. The process starts almost immediately and begins to break down and remove any waste materials left in the water supply.
The bacteria present in the wetlands provide the majority of water treatment. Aerobic bacteria thrive in oxygen-rich water, especially when the water surface is agitated by wind, rain, the addition of wastewater or even wildlife activity, which adds more oxygen. Anaerobic activity, which works best in less oxygenated water, occurs in the lower substrates and soil of a surface-flow system, cleaning and treating the waters that run deep.
Science and conservation aside, a constructed wetland provides a riparian habitat that attracts birds and mammals, as well as amphibians and reptiles. It’s not uncommon to see piping plovers, sandhill cranes or even bald eagles stopping by for lunch.
For the homeowner who is looking for elegant and beautiful solutions to take advantage of the new graywater laws, a constructed wetland may be the perfect answer.