The experimental farmland-channel-wetland systems (FCWS) in Guilin, China have been recently designed based on wetland water recycling systems in Midwest USA. The present article develops a methodology for simplifying the prediction of residence time as a function of the flow rate and physical shape of these contaminant removal systems. A series of two-dimensional simulation studies on surface flow through FCWS wetland of different shapes are performed. Parameters influencing hydraulic characteristics such as empirical values of inlet and outlet flow conditions, and wetland shapes are utilized as inputs to the study. Roughness coefficient was assumed to be constant across the different wetland designs discussed in this article. The mean velocity values within the wetland decreases with increase in ratio of variant inlet widths and wetland inflow rates. The results from the simulation are used as inputs for performing a multivariate multiparameter regression algorithm. This framework models the residence time within the wetland independently as a function of shape, mass inflow, and inlet geometry. This simplified model can be used with ease to evaluate existing as well as new wetland system designs for potential improvement in its function of desalting and filtering waters. © 2013 Desalination Publications. All rights reserved.