Even after a much wetter winter than the past several, California is still facing the difficulties of severe drought. Water conservation has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind; following regulation rules to conserve as much water as possible is a way of life for residents of California.
However, the focus is not on water conservation alone. In addition to conserving water, there has been increasing interest in recycling water to bring the supply up. Silicon Valley has been particularly interested in reusing the water that comes out of the tap (known as gray water, or water that has been used but is still usable). The idea of gray water is not new for Silicon Valley; there are over 150 miles of purple pipes in place(the color of pipes that carry recycled water).
According to architect Bill Worthen (Urban Fabrick), water reuse may be the answer to ending the drought. He states that the “opportunity here is to think about how we can stop the insanity of using water once as it comes out of our tap.” The point here is that there is a large amount of potentially usable water – just not in the form people are used to or want.
Although Silicon Valley has been recycling some water, there is still an entire untapped opportunity for further reuse. For example, many residents in the area are still flushing their toilets with perfectly untainted water. Using clean water to flush wastes seems like a ridiculous mistake than can easily be avoided by filling toilets with gray water.
There are many water supply requirements that don’t need 100% pristine drinking water (such as flushing the toilet). For a typical office building, 95 percent of the water used could come from nonpotable sources, because almost all the water used in these office spaces goes to irrigation, heating and cooling systems, and to flushing toilets and urinals. In a typical multiunit residential building, the number is 50 percent. These are significantly high numbers and the perfect opportunity for reusing water.
Reusing water not only increases the supply, but also reduces energy use, diversions from rivers and streams, and pollution from wastewater discharges. Using recycled water also supports the maintenance of green spaces, can decrease air pollution, and can lower greenhouse gas emissions.
At the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, further steps are being taken for the future of recycled water. The center treats wastewater to drinking water standards. At this point, the water is only permitted to be used for nonpotable purposes, but it may be used in the future to replenish groundwater.
The drought has increased everyone’s interest in recycled water, and the only hurdle that remains is the cost of expansion (to build more purple pipelines and constructing buildings with dual plumbing to reuse gray water), as well as several reuse regulations that are in place.