On June 12, 2014, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) opened the Residential Recycled Water Fill Station for Bay Area residents to come and get recycled water to irrigate their yards. “We wanted to help our customers and neighboring communities survive the 2014 drought,” says Operations Manager Dan Gallagher. “And to be honest, I thought only a handful of folks would take us up on our offer. Hauling water is hard work.”
Much to staff’s surprise, demand was so great, averaging 100 to 150 visitors a day during the hot summer months, they expanded the three hose bibs initially installed to five “back-in” hose bibs and three “drive-through” hose bibs. They also had to expand hours of operation to seven days a week.
By October 31, more than 2.25 million gallons of recycled water had been hauled away in everything from one-gallon jugs to 300-gallon carboys anchored on flatbed trailers. Five-gallon pails and fifty-five gallon drums secured in pick-up trucks seem to be very popular means of transporting the recycled water.
DSRSD’s program is free to any Californian, not just DSRSD customers, and close to 500 individuals have been permitted and trained to use recycled water on their home landscapes. Only 26 percent (125 people) of these residential recycled water users are actually district customers; 67 percent are from the City of Pleasanton, and the remaining seven percent come from as far north as El Sobrante (32 miles), as far south as Santa Clara (30 miles), as far west as San Leandro (15 miles), and as far east as Sunol (13 miles).
It took two months for DSRSD staff to receive regulatory approval, first from the Department of Public Health and then from the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Within eight days of receiving final approval, DSRSD opened the Residential Recycled Water Fill Station for business.
About three weeks later, the City of Livermore opened their recycled water fill station and four months later, Central Contra Costa Sanitation District (CCCSD) opened their recycled water fill station. “I can’t tell you how helpful your staff has been in getting our program approved,” said Assistant Engineer Melody LaBella at CCCSD, “DSRSD’s leadership in recycled water is sure appreciated.”
“The recycled water we make via sand filtration is ideal for irrigation,” says Clean Waters Program Specialist Stefanie Olson, “because it contains nitrogen which is found in fertilizer.” Olson is responsible for managing the program and gladly shares the regulatory approved documentation with agencies interested in opening their own recycled water fill station.
An unexpected benefit of the Fill Station has been the sense of community it has created. Frequent users are getting to know one another and advise one another on containers, pumps and level indicators. “I’ve lived in Dublin for 17 years and I haven’t experienced ‘community’ until I joined the recycled water program,” says Mary Bertelson.
Early on, a few users requested a Facebook page, so DSRSD staff created one for them and they use it to share ideas about where to get containers, how to measure the water level as they’re filling a container they can’t see through, and how to get the water out of the 55-gallon drum in the back of a pick-up and onto the landscape.
Before coming to the fill station the first time, folks are encouraged to download the Use Agreement from DSRSD’s website, read it and sign it. The three-page agreement explains suitable uses for recycled water: to irrigate trees, gardens, vegetables, and lawns; and, wash outdoor furniture, pathways, walls, and windows. The agreement explains that recycled water is not suitable for drinking, cooking, bathing, filling swimming pools or spas, children’s water toys, and it cannot be connected to the household domestic plumbing system.
When first-time users arrive at the fill station, they are trained in the proper procedures for handling recycled water. They sign the Use Agreement, and receive a wallet card that shows they’ve been trained. Fill station users are given purple stickers for their containers, making it obvious the water in the container is not drinkable, but is intended for irrigation or cleaning purposes. Then the users can fill up their containers and haul the water home. On subsequent visits, fill station customers simply show their wallet card, sign in, note the amount of water they are taking, and fill up. Fill station customers are welcome to come as often as they want on any given day, taking up to 300 gallons per load.
History of Recycled Water at DSRSD
The district has been making recycled water, via microfiltration and ultraviolet disinfection, for irrigation and construction since 1999. In 2006, DSRSD partnered with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), to expand treatment facilities and began producing recycled water via sand filtration and ultraviolet disinfection. DSRSD uses more than 61 miles of purple pipe to deliver the recycled water to 347 locations and 10 purple hydrants. Since 2006, the partnership has produced more than seven billion gallons of recycled water.
In 2007, the district began permitting commercial truckers to fill their tanks with recycled water at our commercial fill station. This year alone, 32 commercial haulers have already delivered 15.5 million gallons of recycled water for irrigation, construction grading and dust control.
In 2014, 23 percent of DSRSD’s total water sales were recycled water. During the hot, dry summer months, the district was recycling about half of the wastewater coming into the plant. Recycling 100 percent of the wastewater year-round is a long-term goal for DSRSD.