Treatment Wetlands Equal Cleaner Water and More Birds

Treatment Wetlands Equal Cleaner Water and More Birds

Some of the most productive birding hotspots in Florida are man-made treatment wetlands that were designed to remove nutrients and pollutants from treated wastewater and stormwater. Increasing wastewater flows and stormwater runoff are the inevitable results of increasing human populations. But a growing number of communities in Florida and worldwide, are turning this liability into an asset by initially treating this water through conventional advanced treatment technologies and then recycling the partially purified water into wetland systems designed to provide final purification cost-effectively. One ancillary benefit of these treatment wetlands is their high biological productivity that supports complex and abundant wildlife populations, including many wetland-dependent birds. With additional forethought and some additional cost, these treatment wetlands are becoming important destinations for bird watching and nature photography.


Target one of the many man-made wetlands in Florida for your next birding destination and you will likely see many exciting birds. Located along Florida’s Space Coast, the Ritch Glissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera (i.e., Viera Wetlands) is one of the most popular birding locations in Florida. Designed to further improve water quality in the water discharged from the adjacent wastewater treatment facility, the Viera Wetlands attracts thousands of out-of-town visitors to this birding mecca where 239 species of birds have been recorded on the eBird database.

The 1,200-acre Orlando Wilderness Park was one of the first constructed treatment wetlands in Florida and was designed to polish millions of gallons of wastewater daily from neighboring Orlando before discharging the cleansed water into the St. Johns River. This expansive man-made wetland is permitted to receive up to 30 million gallons of pre-treated municipal wastewater each day. What is attracting over 60,000 visitors to this wetland each year, warranting seasonal tram tours and an educational center? The answers vary but most visitors agree that the richness of birds (200+ species reported to-date), ease of viewing, outstanding opportunities for nature photography, the solitude, and several miles of walking and biking berms are many of the reasons that so many people flock to this man-made wetland.


Perhaps the Lexus version of a public-use treatment wetland is the Green Cay Wetlands located in Boynton Beach in Palm Beach County, Florida. This man-made wetland was sculptured from a previous agricultural field where bell peppers were grown and is now one of the only undeveloped properties in this part of Palm Beach County. The Green Cay Wetlands showcases beautifully landscaped and vegetated wetland cells that are teaming with birds, a 1.5-mile long elevated boardwalk, and a 9,000 square foot nature center attracting more than 500,000 visitors each year. Since its completion in 2004, Green Cay has provided a high-quality nature experience for birdwatchers and photographers; an outdoor park for light exercising and socializing; and an environmental education and vacationing destination. It has even contributed to higher property values in the neighborhoods surrounding the wetlands. But then, who wouldn’t want to live near one of the most attractive environmental parks in Florida? The educational signs that are strategically placed along the boardwalk and in the nature center inform visitors about how the wetland filters and removes thousands of pounds of nutrients and pollutants before the water recharges the underlying aquifer.


Florida’s newest treatment wetland park facility is Gainesville’s Sweetwater Wetlands. Over 180 species of birds have already been observed at this 200-acre, state-of-the-art, water purification system and it has only been opened to the public on a daily basis since October, 2015. The sedimentation basin and three wetland cells that comprise this natural-looking water quality treatment train were designed to remove over 125,000 pounds per year of nitrogen from Gainesville’s stormwater and wastewater. The resulting clean water that emerges from the downstream end of each wetland cell then Paynes Prairie, where it hydrates and enhances the once degraded marsh system located in one of North Florida’s largest state parks.[…]