Cleaning up our water

red bishop bird in reed bed filter

Antbear Lodge (www.antbear.co.za) has tried to implement as many eco aspects to its infrastructure as possible. Perhaps it’s because I am obsessed with anything alternative and eco or perhaps it’s because I have understood that living sustainability is the most important aspect of any business today. I think that way we treat the environment is a key to our future of tourism.

A reedbed filter is our eco alternative to cleaning up our waste water before we return it to the environment. In the main waste water contains phosphates (soap), nitrates (from the septic tank) and elcoli bacteria from the septic tank. Most waste water which is handled on site simply puts it into a seep pit and the ground is left to deal with the issue. Adding a reed bed filter in front of the seep pit and getting rid of the problem before returning the water to the environment seems to me like a logical solution especially as that there are so few costs involves in creating a reed bed. No planning permission was required to do this either.

Basically our waste water is channelled to our reedbed filter. Here it slowly flows amongst the reeds and enters a seep pit on the other side of the reedbed. The reeds flourish from the nitrates and phosphates removing them from the water. The reeds eventually fall over and compost back into the reedbed keeping more and more of the waste water onto the surface which is perfect because the UV from the sun is a natural way to get rid of the ecoli bacteria. The water that comes out the other side of the reedbed is clear and although we are not recycling the water what we are putting back into the environment is way cleaner if not 100% clean. It does take a while for the reedbed to start working and although I don’t have statistics to back this up it seems to me that it works better as it gets older. There also seems to be no need of maintenance.

A reed bed is not a silver bullet and it will not handle raw slurry. Reedbeds break down almost anything, but there is a limit to the amount of nitrogen they can handle. In winter they are up to 20% less efficient so we handled this by making it bigger. A reed-bed will cope with 10mm of dirty water across its surface each day – so it is the surface area of the bed which must increase with water volume and pollutant strength, not depth. The reeds we used are what we transplanted that grow locally. We did not look into the best possible plants as what’s available in the river are without cost and we knew that they grow in our climate.

Another small benefit is that we have created a mini wetland which has resulted in some added birdlife.

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