Right as rain: committing to water reuse
On the same day MPC registered its commitment to sustainable freshwater policies and practices by signing on to the Johnson Foundation's Charting New Waters: A Call to Action to Address U.S. Freshwater Challenges (I encourage you to do the same), we also partnered with Openlands to hold our final roundtable of 2010, "Right as Rain: Advancing Safe, Sustainable Water Reuse." While the timing was a coincidence, the thematic overlap was not.
Among other things, Charting New Waters recommends context-sensitive, co-beneficial, and scientifically sound solutions to protecting our limited freshwater. All of those are borne out in water reuse. The benefits of harvesting rain, air conditioning condensate, grey water, or a host of other varieties of non-potable water, and reusing it for something—flushing toilets, irrigation, cooling, more or less anything that doesn't require potable water—are real.
Each building's water footprint is unique, and that demands a specialized system so the solution fits the setting. You can't get much more context-sensitive. Jonathan Boyer, Principal and Director of Architecture at Farr Associates, walked the audience of 87 through several early water reuse pilot projects, including the Chicago Center for Green Technology, the Whistler Crossingdevelopment in Riverdale, and a traffic roundabout in Normal, Ill.
Water reuse saves energy from reducing pumpage and treatment needs, reduces stormwater runoff, and decreases demand for new, clean water freshly pumped out of the ground or a nearby river. As John Bauer, President of Wahaso, explained, it's also a niche plumbing market that intersects with growing demand for LEED and LEED-ND construction, and that means construction and installation jobs. The demand for these systems will only grow as technologies become more cost-effective and state and local codes become more supportive.
The image here, taken from his presentation, demonstrates that for shopping centers, office complexes and schools, approximately 90 percent of water demand is for non-potable uses. At present most of the systems his firm installs are small residential projects, but larger commercial and institutional systems deliver greater benefits, and ultimately present a greater market.
So if it makes sense to do, what's stopping us from harvesting more rain, or reusing more grey water? At the moment it's primarily the Illinois Plumbing Code, as well as local building and plumbing codes that have yet to be updated to reflect emerging technology and sustainability goals. Daniel McLaughlin, President of the Village of Orland Park and Executive Director of the Plumbing Contractors Association, spoke to that point. "We had to update our codes in Orland Park in order to pursue many of our environmental goals, but with some of these newer technologies, local communities need the state to do the same." The Plumbing Contractors Association recently provided the Ill. Dept. of Public Health, which oversees the state's plumbing code, with ideas on code reform that build off of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials' Green Code.
The roundtable also featured the use of keypad polling to gauge attendees' preferences and ideas—69 percent felt that legislation enabling rainwater harvesting and other reuse should be a priority in 2011, while an additional 16 percent thought we should start with rainwater first, then move on to other reuse issues. In 2010 MPC, Openlands and many partners worked hard, but failed, to pass Senate Bill 2549, which would have requiried revisions to the Illinois Plumbing Code. We'll try again in 2011, but we'll need your support, so stay tuned. Until the code is more permissive, the market for these technologies will be constrained.
If you missed "Right as Rain," check back in to our multimedia library in a few weeks to hear the audio files, courtesy of Chicago Amplified, and be one of the first to register for MPC and Openlands' first roundtable of 2011, “Letting It All Soak In: Nature’s Role in Protecting Water Resources."