By Lauren Valle
Recently, I came across a report published by the National Wildlife Federation titled, "The Campus Wild: How College and University Green Landscapes Provide Havens for Wildlife and "Lands-on" Experiences for Students". The report profiles the initiatives of campuses around the United States ranging from green roofs, storm water systems and food-producing gardens to the creation and maintenance of botanical gardens, wild-life preserves and arboretums, some of them several hundred acres in size.
It is clear that many campuses across the US are taking leadership roles in managing their landscapes, investing in sustainable infrastructure and offering wild spaces for students to learn and play in. It is our quest here at Nu Ecological to design wastewater treatment systems that incorporate natural processes and integrate seamlessly into campus landscapes in the form of living classrooms. It's exciting to read about all the campuses that are already investing in this type of green infrastructure.
A constructed wetland is a great example of treating wastewater through natural processes. When applied correctly as part of a full treatment system, a constructed wetland can perform nitrification, denitrification and final polishing of effluent. These wetlands can be built indoors, allowing people to get up close and personal with plants and experience nature at work. When built outdoors, wetlands can be planted with native and flowering species and made accessible to humans through boardwalks and paths. Outdoor wetlands serve as a watery home as well as foraging and breeding grounds for a range of species such as migrating birds, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians and insects that could not thrive otherwise.
At least 50% of the original wetland area in the continental United States has been lost to drainage, land-use development and other human activities (source). In the coming decades many current wastewater facilities will need to be upgraded and new systems built. Why not build wetlands as part of an onsite treatment system and gain the added value that natural habitat offers a campus? In most cases an entire onsite treat system is buried underground, foregoing to opportunity to improve a campus landscape. When compared to a conventional septic system for onsite treatment, adding constructed wetlands decreases the amount of harmful nutrients that may end up in nearby water bodies. Constructed wetlands are valuable not only as a means for wastewater treatment but for the ecosystem services that they provide.
Constructed wetlands are a visible and valuable campus asset for colleges and universities investing in green landscapes and infrastructure. We applaud those institutions who are leading the movement for a more wild future.