Putting Wetlands to Work

by Scott D. Wallace, Vice-Pres.; North American Wetland Engineering, Forest Lake, MN,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1998, Vol. 68, Issue 7, Pg. 57-59

Document Type: Feature article


Wetlands, whether natural or engineered, have enormous potential to clean up wastewater, but in the past, the public called on civil engineers to drain wetlands en masse as a public benefit. By some estimates, as much as 1 billion acres, or nearly 10% of North America, have been drained. Acting as the kidneys of our planet, wetlands exchange dirty contaminants for clean, pure water. Wetlands operate on ambient solar energy, requiring little or no external energy input for pumping or aeration; increase treatment capacity over time, unlike mechanical systems; create wildlife habitat; create oxygen and consume carbon dioxide, improving air quality and fighting global warming; and require little or no maintenance, making them especially appropriate in areas where no infrastructure support exists. Engineers use several types of wetland treatment systems, including natural wetlands, constructed open water (or free water surface) wetlands, and subsurface flow (commonly called gravel bed, reed bed, or root zone) wetlands.

Subject Headings: Wetlands (fresh water) | Solar power | Water treatment | Subsurface flow | Energy consumption | Drainage | Bed materials

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