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Question for Feidhlim Harty (hope this is the correct place for it)

 
Katrin Kerns
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Hello Feidhlim, and welcome to permies.

Years ago when I was still in my twenties I was in Job Corp taking the Landscape Horticulture training vocation. My instructor passed around a Sunset Western Garden magazine that contained an article on an alternative to septic systems. The article was all about an experimental project (I believe it was in New Mexico) to build an onsite septic system using native plants and a gravel bed to filter all black and grey water through a natural system and make the water if not potable, then at least usable for watering your garden. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the article and have been trying (unsuccessfully) ever since to find out about this sort of thing. The article went on to tell about how they basically built an artificial swamp sort of thing where all of the black and grey water from the buildings onsite was funneled into a special gravel bed where they had planted specific native plants that could handle different levels of sewage I guess for lack of a better word. The waste water would filter through different levels of plants which would sift out all of the nasty bad stuff that would make the water hazardous to our health and by the end the water would be nearly clean and once again usable. I hope that I'm making myself clear enough on this. Anyway the system was supposed to be adaptable to any location by selecting the proper native plants that would be tolerant to different levels of sewage and basically making a series of "ponds" to run the sewage water through. Does your book cover stuff like that at all? I'm not sure if I'm being at all clear on this, I hope you get what I'm talking about. Thanks much.

Kat
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Kat, what you're describing sounds like either a gravel reed bed system or a soil based constructed wetland system - or a combination of these approaches. (If you're interested in the main differences they're on www.wetlandsystems.ie/reedbedsystems.html) In Ireland, given our climate, average water consumption and water quality requirements - the typical size for a constructed wetland is about 100m2 (about 1000ft2) for a 3 bedroom house. A gravel reed bed will be about half that size. Here we use bulrush (or cattail in the US), common reed (the tall thatching reed), yellow flag Iris and a few others.

In arid climates such as the one you first read about, the system size would be a lot smaller and use a different range of plants, but the principle is identical. Basically the plants not only take up nutrients and provide evapotranspiration, but they also act like a creche for bacteria - providing just the right biological environment for them to thrive and party hard on the abundant supply of food (contaminants to you and me). And yes, the water can be really really clean at the outlet end - all for no electricity inputs and a wildlife habitat to boot!

I first heard of Constructed Wetlands in the early 1990s when our local town of about 10,000 people was planning to build a longer pipe (I kid you not!) as a solution to the sewage problem, and pump it further out into the local harbour. A group of local residents did a lot of research and organised the first Irish Constructed Wetland conference. My mother was one of those residents (chief protagonist actually) and so I got really interested in the whole area. What the book does is speaks to the sewage newbies about the whole range of options available: conventional systems, natural ones like I've described here, and hard-core eco such as willow systems and dry toilets. My ultimate aim is to get clean water back into every stream and river in the country - not unlike Paul's plans at world domination, but smaller scale.

At that conference, Dr. Don Hammer of the Tennessee Valley Authority spoke about soil based constructed wetlands, and how they helped to get a local lake back from the brink of extinction, so to speak. He outlined how maintenance free they were - and I was besotted. The rest, as they say apparently, is history.


 
Katrin Kerns
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Feidhlim Harty wrote:Hi Kat, what you're describing sounds like either a gravel reed bed system or a soil based constructed wetland system - or a combination of these approaches. (If you're interested in the main differences they're on www.wetlandsystems.ie/reedbedsystems.html) In Ireland, given our climate, average water consumption and water quality requirements - the typical size for a constructed wetland is about 100m2 (about 1000ft2) for a 3 bedroom house. A gravel reed bed will be about half that size. Here we use bulrush (or cattail in the US), common reed (the tall thatching reed), yellow flag Iris and a few others.

In arid climates such as the one you first read about, the system size would be a lot smaller and use a different range of plants, but the principle is identical. Basically the plants not only take up nutrients and provide evapotranspiration, but they also act like a creche for bacteria - providing just the right biological environment for them to thrive and party hard on the abundant supply of food (contaminants to you and me). And yes, the water can be really really clean at the outlet end - all for no electricity inputs and a wildlife habitat to boot!

I first heard of Constructed Wetlands in the early 1990s when our local town of about 10,000 people was planning to build a longer pipe (I kid you not!) as a solution to the sewage problem, and pump it further out into the local harbour. A group of local residents did a lot of research and organised the first Irish Constructed Wetland conference. My mother was one of those residents (chief protagonist actually) and so I got really interested in the whole area. What the book does is speaks to the sewage newbies about the whole range of options available: conventional systems, natural ones like I've described here, and hard-core eco such as willow systems and dry toilets. My ultimate aim is to get clean water back into every stream and river in the country - not unlike Paul's plans at world domination, but smaller scale.

At that conference, Dr. Don Hammer of the Tennessee Valley Authority spoke about soil based constructed wetlands, and how they helped to get a local lake back from the brink of extinction, so to speak. He outlined how maintenance free they were - and I was besotted. The rest, as they say apparently, is history.



Awesome! Thanks so much for the info. I have been trying for the last couple of years to figure out just exactly what that was and what it was all about, but I didn't have the right words to describe it. I'm really glad that you actually understood what it was I was talking about. Now I know what it is I've been trying to research, (and have the words to look further into it). It sounds like your book covers a lot of really useful information as well as covering info on constructed wetlands. I will have to pick up a copy when I get a bit of extra money. Again, thanks so very much for all of the useful info. So glad you dropped in here. Take care,

Kat
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Hi Kat, thank you for the kind words, always happy to be of help!

If you're doing your research, check out my website for background information. It's at www.wetlandsystems.ie . Send off an email to me if you want me to send you on a copy of my constructed wetland information document.

 
Katrin Kerns
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Feidhlim Harty wrote:Hi Kat, thank you for the kind words, always happy to be of help!

If you're doing your research, check out my website for background information. It's at www.wetlandsystems.ie . Send off an email to me if you want me to send you on a copy of my constructed wetland information document.


Will do! Thanks so very much again! I'm going to be hitting your website next, and will be sending off an email as well! Take care,

Kat

Update: Oh my! I just checked out your site... what can I say other than AWESOME! That's exactly what I was looking for! I'm so going to have to get your book as soon as I get a bit of spare cash! I can't thank you enough!

Kat
 
Feidhlim Harty
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Kat, flattery will get you anywhere…

Thanks,

 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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