Monday, May 11, 2009

The Living Fountain

A "Living Machine" wastewater treatment water feature. Photo: Worrell Water Technologies.

What a relaxing spot to eat your lunch on a park bench! It’s got everything: plants, grass, running water, pathways, ambience, there might even be a small koi pond…

This tiny place of tranquility is in Florida, a state in the middle of a critical water shortage. Florida is suffering its third driest season on record since 1932 (rainfall has dropped 30%) which combined with salty estuaries and the Everglades’ marshes evaporating has created the desperate water situation that exists today.

So, why is Florida allowing this type of landscape feature that appears to using valuable water resources with little or no return for the sacrifice? Let’s look a little closer. All is not as it appears.

It’s hard to recognize this as the tiny little wetland-based wastewater treatment system that it really is. But, the Living Machine (as they have been named) is fashioned after the best filtration system in the world – Mother Nature’s.

The water-conserving fountain was created by Worrell Water Technologies. The system provides quality freshwater to be re-used without chemicals or by-products. While this water is not treated enough to be used as drinking water, the grey water it has treated can be used for landscape irrigation; toilet flushing; washing equipment and/or buildings; and, even that small koi pond I mentioned earlier.

It replicates a tidal wetland system by collecting wastewater through a series of basins, with oxygen, vegetation and natural microorganisms naturally cleansing it.

Derived from the innovative eco-design of Dr. John Todd, the system was re-engineered in 1999 by his partner Tom Worrell to eliminate large amounts of biowaste that required disposal. The second generation Living Machine was developed without chemicals, industrial processes, high energy costs, or expensive investments in public infrastructure.

In the EcoCentre, home to the Romano Law Group, the “aquatecture” uses environmental features to save the building 200,000 gallons of water annually. The Romano Law Group has managed to incorporate an 8,000 gallon cistern on the green roof to collect rainwater and a 150 sq.ft. fountain in the lobby as well as other innovative touches to make the building a living building.

With his vision for "Vive Verde," (Live Green) John F. Romano was inspired to do more than give green lip-service:

Water is not an infinite resource. We're especially seeing that in South Florida. It is essential that we do our part to try to preserve the water we do have by re-using it…As leaders in our communities, we believe that we also have the responsibility to effect change for the good of society. I realized it's not enough to just recycle, not litter, and love the outdoors. Businesses and community leaders need to enhance the environment.

So far Living Machines have been installed in over 24 locations including:
Treasure Island, Esalen Institute, Guilford Schools in North Carolina, a YMCA camp, El Monte Sagrado Resort in Taos, Norder Zoo in the Netherlands, and a Vermont rest stop mentioned here back in 2005.

Here’s hoping this an idea that will catch on and spread! If a reststop in Vermont can see the wisdom; surely we can!

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