Red Shoulder Hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Sunday, November 19, 2006

California's first constructed wetlands with a permit!

Over the course of the last few years, anyone who is savvy to the local eco scene has said to me, "Bob, have you been to the Ecohouse in Berkeley?"

"No, I haven't."

"O my gosh, you simply must go!"

I have tried several times to get there, but the place doesn't keep "hours." My friend Paki included me on an email distribution, and so now I've been.

It's astonishing.

Situated between a couple of community gardens, this tiny home is the site of several amazing, sustainable technologies. Today there was a living roof workshop and the tail end of the gray water workshop. John Russell has designed and orchestrated the construction of a residential waste-water treatment system. It's the first permitted constructed wetlands in the state!

There's a great giant hole in the ground, filled with various grades of crushed rock. It's perhaps 8 feet in diameter, with an island perhaps 4 feet across in the middle. Up to 350 gallons per day could flow through it, so it is a model a largish family could use. Water flows through all the pore spaces of the rocks, and bacteria does the jobs of purifying it. From the rock bed the water then flows into a set of bark-filled troughs, where it percolates into the soil and provides plenty of water for fruit trees and other gardefn edibles.

In order to secure the permit, there are some design aspects such as the ability to drain the entire system, or to shut it down entirely and divert waste water back into the city sewer system (during heavy rains, for example). Also, the water never reaches the surface, and only relatively clean water is allowed into the system; the kitchen sink water is still considered part of the black water system.

I worked alongside many of my friends of permaculture today, moving rocks and dirt, laughing and catching up. Everyone is pretty interested in helping me get the project here more fully underway. That's encouraging! Perhaps I'll help build the state's first multi-tenant permitted constructed wetlands, which includes some open water and a pond!

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