Healing Wetlands: Waste Water Treatment Plant
Author: Anthony Hernandez
Institution: University of New Mexico
Instructor: Kathleen Kambic
Studio: Infrastructure in Albuquerque: PIPE DREAMS; Graduate Landscape Architecture, Spring 2021
Partners/Contributors: Verna Teller, Chief Justice of the Pueblo of Isleta and former Governor of the Pueblo; Rhea Trotman, Water Resources Educator, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority; Bruce Thompson, Professor Emeritus, Civil Engineering UNM and former Board of Directors at AMAFCA; Emily Vogler, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture, RISD; Alf Simon, Professor Emeritus, Landscape Architecture, UNM; Katya Crawford, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture UNM; Susan Frye, Distinguished Lecturer, Landscape Architecture, UNM; Brett Milligan, Professor, Landscape Architecture + Environmental Design, UC Davis; Emily Knox, Visiting Assistant Professor, Landscape Architecture, Auburn University; Greg Miller, Principal at MRWM Landscape Architects
The city of Albuquerque produces approximately 50 million gallons of wastewater each day. This wastewater travels within 2400 miles of sewers maintained by the Albuquerque/ Bernalillo County Water Authority (ABCWUA), to the Southside Water Reclamation Plant. Here, the water undergoes processes of purification and decontamination, before being discharged into the Rio Grande.
South of the Reclamation Plant is the Pueblo of lsleta, where the water has been plagued by high levels of pollution from Albuquerque. lsleta maintains water rights and high standards over Albuquerque to ensure the wastewater will be clean and safe by the time it leaves its last stop at the treatment plant. Although these standards are now met, contaminants such as nitrates, ammonia, arsenic, and pharmaceuticals still find their way into the river.
Healing Wetlands proposes a series of four terraced wetland pools at the treatment plant, to provide a secondary and natural purification process. The water from the treatment plant is dispensed into the pools where it is oxygenated through aerobic processes, and de-oxygenated through anaerobic processes. The system begins with wetland plants that filter out contaminants as the water moves through the terraces. The secondary stage feeds water through a series of perforated pipes to reinvigorate surrounding cottonwood trees. A separate delivery pipe carries water from a neighboring ditch to the west side of the river, to regenerate former wetlands. Exposure to filtering plants and sunlight will enhance the treated water quality when it reaches the Rio Grande, providing cleaner water for lsleta Pueblo.
The relationship people have created with the Rio Grande changes depending on whom you talk to. If we think back to the beginning of recorded western history in New Mexico, we know that indigenous tribes have been using and altering the river since time immemorial. This includes ditches near the river and delimiting the floodplain. As Spanish colonizers settled along the river corridor, their water interventions stretched out to cover the entirety of the floodplain, through the construction of acequia systems. In more recent history, federal, state, and local governments have implemented large scale plans to control the waters of the Rio. What has resulted is a complex network of policies and physical infrastructures that now define the Rio Grande. This semester, we will investigate these structures and surmise new futures for them.
One of our main considerations is the Pueblo of Isleta Surface Water Quality Standards document. Clean water is important to the Pueblo for individual and community needs. The interventions we will consider should positively affect the water quality downstream; they do not need to be large, or comprehensive, or even made out of hard material. We are going to think and draw through a series of potentials this semester, and come up with innovative and expressive ways to use and access water. The first eight weeks of the semester will be comprised of a series of studies based on field trips. During these trips we will explore the different types of water infrastructure in Albuquerque and will meet with experts for their perspectives of the wicked problems we face as a city and a community of water users. Infrastructure along the Rio Grande is aging just as water volumes are dropping. There are significant interlaced economic, environmental, cultural, and physical issues that communities that depend on the Rio Grande are facing. This nexus of climate change and infrastructure is an opportunity for designers to tackle the most challenging issues of our times at multiple scales. The studio will look directly at reservoirs, built and natural water channels, agricultural and urban water use, environmental degradation, and population loss.