As an alternative to mechanical wastewater treatment systems, a German biologist, Kathe Seidel, applied the concepts that occur in natural wetlands to the treatment of pollutants in the Ruhr Valley of Germany. These man-made wetlands, either subsurface flow or surface flow, such as the one at Sol y Sombra, the home of Beth and Charles Miller, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, are called constructed wetlands. At Christ in the Desert we are using subsurface flow constructed wetlands to treat our wastewater.
This consists of a man-made marsh which uses bulrushes, cattails, reeds and many other plants and flowers to breakdown solid waste and chemicals. This enhances the beauty and fragrance of the environment, as well as increasing its biodiversity.
The wetlands system requires sun, water, bacteria and plants to do its work. Therefore after the initial cost of construction and planting, maintenance costs are very low in comparison to the conventional wastewater systems which utilize pumps, aeration equipment and chemicals. The ability to remove pathogenic bacteria without the use of chlorination or other kinds of disinfectants make this a desirable method to clean up contaminated groundwater. Wetlands greatly reduce and often eliminate the need for sludge removal. Other forms of wetlands being used today are aquatic systems and overland flow systems.
In addition to the savings on maintenance and energy requirements, wetlands also provide wonderful wildlife habitats as well as beautifying the land and producing clean water. Many commercial wetlands have been made into recreational parks. The essence of the sustainability of constructed wetlands is found in the biological processes, in which the plants and accompanying micro-organisms turn the waste material into nutrients for continued growth of these plants and organisms. At the same time the plants continue to filter waste water into clean water.