A "Living Machine" wastewater treatment water feature. Photo: Worrell Water Technologies
Florida's "fountain of youth" today may be a wastewater treatment system disguised as a cascading water feature in a building atrium. Considering Florida's critical water shortage, suffering its third driest season on record since 1932, with less than 30 percent of normal winter rainfall, salty estuaries, and the Everglades' marshes evaporating, it's not surprising that the paved-over state in this subtropical climate with endless golf courses and countless housing developments is in a dilemma. Could the "Living Machine" fountain flowing in the lobby of a law firm near West Palm Beach defy Florida's water wasting practices?In the EcoCentre, home to the Romano Law Group which calls its green office space the Living Building, the "aquatecture" uses environmental features like an 8,000 gallon cistern to collect rainwater on a green roof and 150-square-foot fountain in the lobby that's a "turbo-charged" wastewater treatment system, transforming grey water and saving the structure 200,000 gallons of water annually. With his vision for "Vive Verde," 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.
The Living Machine eco-system:
The water-conserving fountain was created by Worrell Water Technologies. Called the Living Machine, the system provides quality freshwater to be re-used without chemicals or by-products. It replicates a tidal wetland system, collecting wastewater through a series of basins, with oxygen, vegetation and natural microorganisms naturally cleansing it. Treated grey water is then recycled for landscape irrigation, toilet flushing, washing equipment, and even fish ponds.
Derived from the innovative eco-design of Dr. John Todd, who married the technology with natural processes, 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.
Treasure Island, indeed
Living Machines are installed in over two dozen 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.
The notion that a wetland ecology of plants and microorganisms can clean water effectively was the brainchild of Dr. KÃ¤the Seidel, a biologist at the Max Plank Institute, called "Bulrush Kate" by colleagues in the 1950s. With water infrastructure failing nationwide, Worrell believes his decentralized eco-friendly eco-system is a solution that provides energy-independent heating and cooling systems, food growing opportunities, and composting.
So why does this energy-efficient little wastewater plant (so to speak) still seem slow going to catch on?
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