Members of Milagro have long been deeply concerned regarding recycling, especially water, in the desert where there is so little. These concerns induced us to choose to recycle all of our wastewater.
One of the more innovative features of Milagro is that all household wastewater is processed through a constructued wetlands system that uses natural plants and bacteria to process the water and make it suitable for reclaim. From there, it is recirculated to our community vegetation by sub-surface irrigation.
Milagro built a wetlands wastewater treatment and reclamation process. Construction costs were partially offset by not having to install sewage pumps to lift our sewage to the end of the city sewage line. We also save the monthly sewer connection fee.
Waste is first received from the homes by septic tanks which settle the solids. Septic outflow is fed to one of two treatment beds. These treatment beds are 18 inches of gravel with a plastic 20-millimeter liner to avoid losing the liquid into the ground. The gravel is topped with mulch, mostly woodchips, which is planted with sedges. The wastewater flows in one end of the treatment bed and overflows out the other end. During its time in the gravel bed it is further decomposed by bacteria living on the roots of the plants and on the surface of the gravel. The outflow from the treatment beds is gathered in a one thousand-gallon collection tank. A pump moves the reclaimed wastewater from that tank up through the center of the community where it is delivered from below ground to our landscaping. There is no odor.
This system was designed to process 7,000 gallons per day. But this community generates too little wastewater to satisfy all of the wetland's plant’s requirements during the summer months. We have implemented a cycle of shutting down one of the two treatment beds during the summer.
There were several governmental agencies that thought they had an interest in a wetlands serving a 28 home community. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Pima Association of Governments, Pima County Waste Water Department, Tucson City Water Department, and Tucson Planning and Zoning Department. Our consultant, Dr. Wayne Moody, when approaching each of these entities individually was given a classic “runaround”, e.g. “I don’t think we would have a problem with it but some other department would have to sign off”. When Dr. Moody was in a meeting including representatives of all of these entities, he asked the question “What would it take . . . ?”. Everyone turned to look at the individual whose opinion really mattered. He said, “Well, you folks are just trying to do the right thing. I don’t see any reason why we should make you get a waste treatment facility permit”. At which time Dr. Moody asked “Would you mind putting that in writing?”. And that hurdle was successfully navigated.
Our water recycling efforts are paying off. Our community is alive with green, growing plants and trees. Our water bills are minimal. We’ve been told that most individuals in Tucson use at least 150 gallons of water per person per day. While we have yet to reach our goal of using less than 50 gallons of water per person per day, we are getting closer.