Wetlands are some of the most important ecosystems on our planet harboring some of the highest rates of biodiversity in the world. They are fundamental for purifying the water we use and also for creating habitat for thousands of threatened species. Unfortunately, wetlands often get in the way of industrial development which has an unhealthy love affair with cement. For that reason, wetlands are often drained to make way for apartment complexes, tennis courts, parking lots, and a whole host of other useless aspects of our modern civilization.
Creating your own wetland is a fantastic way to store water in the land. Furthermore, it is also perhaps the easiest way to recycle the gray water that flows through your home. Gray water is the water that comes from your showers, sinks, dishwasher and washing machine. It usually contains high sources of phosphate from soap residues which is an essential ingredient that many plants need. Gray water differs from black water which contains human feces and urine.
To create a wetland with the gray water from your home, you´ll have to think outside of the box that most plumbers bring with them. Whereas traditional plumbing basically sends all water as far away from the home as possible (either to the sewage system or to a septic tank), recycling your gray water with a wetland attempts to keep that water in the soil close to the home.
Start by digging a decent sized hole in the ground as if you were excavating to put in a new pool. The size of the hole for your wetland will depend on the amount of water your household consumes and the type of soil around your home. If you live on sandy soil, the gray water will quickly percolate into the soil. Thick clay soil, on the other hand, will require that you build a bigger hole since it won´t consume the water as quickly.
Once you have your hole excavated (not more than one meter deep even for the most clayey soils), add a thin layer of gravel or pumice rock covered by a thicker layer of compost or fertile topsoil. The level of the rock and soil added to your excavated hole should still be at least 30 centimeters below the surrounding ground surface. This will ensure that the water accumulates in your wetland.
Next, add abundant water to and begin to plant the aquatic or water-loving species that will fill your wetland. Nature has given us a whole host of water-hungry plant species that are specialists at water purification. Cattails and water reeds (typhus species) are the experts at pulling excess water and taking out any sort of pathogen. Other species that are good for wetlands include horsetail (that doubles as a great ingredient for compost teas as well as being a natural diuretic), calla lilies, and even a hardy banana species that have become popular for landscapers.
You will want to get your species at least somewhat established before directing your gray water towards the wetland so that they can get right to work on sucking up and purifying excess water. While gray water is harmless as long as it is dealt with correctly, allowing it to become stagnant can stink to high heaven and create a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens.
Once your wetland species are established and thriving, you´ll have to redirect the pipes from your home towards the wetland. If you want to avoid using complicated pumping systems, locate the wetland below your home to let gravity do the work. If your home is already connected to a sewer system, you´ll have to be creative with your plumbing fixtures. The simplest and most direct way is to simply move the gray water directly to the wetland with PVC pipes that leave your home. For proper drainage, you´ll need at least ¼ foot of drop per every 50 feet.
While some people advocate for the use of complicated filter systems, you can direct gray water directly to your wetland as long as you don´t use strong chemical detergents or bleach. Most simple household soaps are fine to go directly into your wetland, and there are also several different types of ecological and biodegradable cleaning products on the market. Bleach is one of the worst things for wetlands and should be replaced by vinegar or other natural cleaning agents.
If you still use strong chemical soaps in your household, you can make a simple filter by building a small cinder block box and fill it with layers of sand, gravel, and charcoal. Direct your gray waters through this filter and connect an exit hose at the bottom of the homemade filter.
Once your wetland is functioning, you´ll probably notice an increase in different forms of wildlife around your home. Amphibians and water-loving insects will appear when there were none before. Furthermore, other water-loving plant species may appear brought by birds and other visiting animals thus increasing the biodiversity around your home. If you live in a dry climate, you can plant fruit trees below the wetland. Their roots will seek out the excess moisture and thrive even in the driest of climates.