Serious Drought Help Save Water

When Water Saving isn’t Just Smart, it’s the Law

April 14, 2015

We are asked to run a lot of cost scenarios for sustainability ‘upgrades’ and I can tell you, reclaimed water and rainwater harvesting rarely make the cut.  Who’s doing it? Camden Friends, Musconetcong Watershed Association, Tasty Baking Company, and United Natural Foods.  Okay, a bunch of our clients do it but our clients are more forward-thinking than the norm. Why is it not happening more?  Sometimes it’s for regulatory reasons but mostly it’s because water is cheap.  I can scarcely think of something more valuable that costs less.  The reasons are numerous but the bottom line is that you can get a lot of water for very little cost in many areas of the country, including Philadelphia.

Here in California though, we think about water differently.  We are MANDATED to think about water differently. In face of an historic drought, Governor Jerry Brown recently issued an Executive Order that requires cities and counties (not including agriculture) to cut their water usage by 25%  over that of 2013 by February 2016.  At the moment there’s not much specificity about how to arrive there, but the order does indicate that certain property types, such as campuses, golf courses and cemeteries, water efficiency measures be implemented immediately.  Most of our water usage goes to irrigation (agricultural or other).  Rainwater harvesting here doesn’t make a lot of sense as we have little to no rain to harvest and none when irrigation needs it the most… we are looking at other options like recycling process water (from air conditioning and other industrial uses), using graywater, and most importantly serious reduction.

Cal Green of the California Building Code already requires the same pre-requisites and credits as LEED, however it goes a bit further with the irrigation, requiring that irrigated areas over a certain area, must be sub-metered and have controllers with sensors that are weather or moisture based.

One of our projects is consulting with San Mateo Community College on their Design Standards for their 3 campuses.  The District previously indentified that 80% of their water use goes to irrigation. While steps have been implemented already to reduce that amount by 25%, we were asked to help prioritize additional savings.  Some recommendations  included replacing spray heads with multiple rotary heads that are 30% more efficient than conventional spray heads,  consider areas where planting can be changed out for vegetation that is appropriate for drip irrigation (rather than spray) or no irrigation, and waste water from process equipment such as cooling towers and air conditioning condensate for irrigation.  Using waste water from process equipment for irrigation is particularly appealing when the process equipment uses a chemical-free treatment process, such a Dolphin Water Care System.  This type of system uses less water overall and does not require additional treatment prior to use for irrigation.

On another residential project we are working on in Berkeley, the design is slated to include irrigation using graywater from the laundry, bathroom sink and shower as allowed by the City.

On UNFI’s warehouse in Gilroy, California, the local water district requires that certain properties must irrigate (presumably to help replenish the aquifer) and that the irrigation water come from a tertiary treatment  plant provided by the water utility district.  In other words, the irrigation water is treated to less-than-potable standards but still acceptable for watering plants.

Water may be evaporating quickly which means water prices are sure to escalate.  Being proactive both through project design and advocacy for legislation, such as California’s AB 1463 which will streamline permitting of onsite recycled water,  is both smart and responsible.