Net positive water status in buildings becoming a reality

Sydney, Australia's Barangaroo South - a net positive water project, photo by Lend Lease

Sydney, Australia’s Barangaroo South – a net positive water project

Water is a hot topic. With water tables dropping around the world, lakes and rivers are drying up. Annual rainfalls are changing, often dramatically. As temperatures around the globe heat up, drought is becoming the new normal. So builders and architects are turning their creative minds to innovation to recycle and reclaim water in order to turn once waterhog-ish buildings into net positive ones.

A recent article highlights a new urban renewal project in Sydney, Australia, that focuses on just this.

Sydney’s Barangaroo South project is part of a national push for Australia to have the first large scale carbon neutral community. This mixed use precinct will encompass commercial office buildings, residential apartments, an international hotel, shops, cafes, restaurants, and cultural facilities.

To become net positive in regards to water use, this project will recycle all the water used on site – the gray and black waters from toilets, showers, laundries, waste rooms and restaurants, as well as water from rainwater harvesting, cooling tower backwash, and – during night time (times of low load) from water mined from Sydney Water’s sewer main.

A dried up lake in Queensland, Australia - just one example of the country's dropping water table

A dried up lake in Queensland, Australia – just one example of the country’s dropping water table

The project’s developer, Lend Lease, says it anticipates that once it’s completed, up to 500,000 litres of potable water a day will be used at Barangaroo South, with the recycling plant producing up to 1 million litres of recycled water a day.

The water treatment plant will be operational as of this October. Although it will start recycling and producing recycled water right away, it cannot become net positive until customers commit to using the reclaimed / recycled water.

And will they come?

We humans have a funny view of things. If it appeals to our imaginations – or our bank accounts – we’ll sign up for all sorts of wacky things. If it has the “yuck” factor, chances are fifty-fifty. Still, if it’s the best way to get water in a country desperate for it, businesses may see past the yuck and go for fundamentals.

Would this work in other parts of the world? Very likely, especially where water is growing severely scarce.

Reclaimed water signage in Tucson, Arizona

Reclaimed water signage in Tucson, Arizona

Places like Tucson, Arizona and in California, San Diego County and East Bay Municipal Utility District are great examples. All of these use recycled water for things like  irrigation, industrial cooling, toilet flushing, watering golf courses, freeway medians, greenbelts and athletic fields. This helps to conserve water used specifically for drinking. California has established a Water Reuse Association to help increase the amount of recycled water in the state.It’s part of the national Water Reuse organization, an advocacy group founded in 1990 dedicated to promoting water reuse to help influence public opinion, lawmakers and policymakers on policy and projects related to water reuse.

We Americans would be smart to surrender to the idea of reclaimed water use and to recognize that we can’t take the availability of water for granted anymore. It’s precious and if we want to ensure that we and future generations have plenty of it, creating infrastructure for reclaiming and recycling water is likely our very best bet.

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