The greenery encircling Electronic Arts’ corporate offices in Redwood Shores was kept alive with pristine drinking water from the Hetch Hetchy system until about a year and a half ago.
That’s when the gaming giant decided to start using recycled sewage water to keep its grass green, one of the dozens of customers to link up with Redwood City’s rapidly expanding system.
The city recently finished the first phase of the $72 million bond-funded project, a sprawling network of purple pipes in Redwood Shores and near the Port of Redwood City connected to a series of pumps that hum away next door to a sewage treatment plant.
Combined with the city’s intensified conservation efforts, recycled water has helped Redwood City stage a remarkable turnaround from a decade ago, when the city came in every year above its allotment of fresh water from the Hetch Hetchy system.
From a high of 4.4 billion gallons in fiscal year 2003-04, the city has reduced its consumption to 3.5 billion gallons in the fiscal year that ended June 30, well below its allotment of nearly 4 billion gallons.
Recycled water is only part of the reason for the drop. The city delivered 117 million gallons of recycled water last fiscal year, short of an initial goal of 293 million by this year. But increased education about conserving water and a tiered billing system based on consumption have helped reduce usage.
“We would like to be meeting our recycled-water goals, but in the end, we’re still getting the savings,” Water Utilities Superintendent Justin Ezell said.
The recycled-water system’s 47 customers get a 25 percent discount on recycled water, but Mayor Jeff Ira said he thinks there is a growing recognition of the general need to get serious about water conservation.
“People look long term and say, ‘Wait a minute, they’re not going to expand Hetch Hetchy, there’s more and more demand on water,’” Ira said.
To ease early fears about the water’s safety, the city increased outreach to neighborhood groups and businesses, assuring them that the effluent goes through several treatment stages to kill microorganisms and render it safe for nondrinking uses, Ezell said. He said there have been no reports of illnesses related to recycled water.
“There’s been a lot of acceptance of this over the last couple of years,” Ezell said. “People are seeing the benefits and they understand how it’s safe to use.”
Companies tap in past irrigation
REDWOOD CITY — Businesses in Redwood Shores have only used recycled water for landscaping, but some are considering expanding beyond the front lawn.
Hotel Sofitel San Francisco Bay and Provident Credit Union, which already have recycled-water irrigation, are hoping to use the system for toilet flushing and in their temperature-control systems.
<br />Sofitel initially signed onto the program because its parent company has long emphasized being environmentally conscious, said General Manager John Hutar, who added that conservation efforts have won the hotel several industry awards.
Electronic Arts hooked up to recycled water for irrigation of its 24-acre campus in Redwood Shores for much the same reason — an emphasis on sustainability.
“We realize it’s an issue that’s much greater than us here on this campus, and we’re very happy to be a part of the overall solution,” said Ray Montalvo, the company’s senior director of facilities and corporate services.
Provident would like to expand its recycled-water usage to toilets and air conditioning, but upgrade costs have delayed those efforts, Facilities Manager Terese Ruth said in an e-mail.
— Shaun Bishop
By the drop
- 130 million Gallons of recycled water Redwood City expects businesses to use this fiscal year
- 717 million Drop in gallons of Redwood City’s drinking-water consumption since 2005
- $72 million Cost of initial phase of recycled-water project
- $30 million Estimated cost of second phase
Source: Redwood City