Being Eco-Adaptive® with Developments

Next to air, water is the most important thing on Earth


Without air you are dead in two minutes, and without water you are dead in a few days. You can go months without food or shelter, so water is pretty important. Only 1 percent of the Earth’s water is drinkable, so you would think it would be most important to use water more than once.

Despite last year’s heavy rains throughout Northern California, the majority of California is still considered to be experiencing drought conditions. Southern California depends heavily upon the Colorado River for water supply and, under current conditions, there is a 50 percent chance the Colorado River will dry up by 2021.

When you consider that Americans use on average about 175 gallons a day per person, compared to 50 gallons of water per day in France, the idea of water conservation is a vital one. We certainly have a lot of room for improvement.

A recent report released by ULI seeks to address a gap in today’s research on stormwater management approaches, with most recent reports focusing on the public realm. The report says fewer have focused on implications for private sector real estate developers.

Addressing this gap, studies have shown that water conservation and increased water reuse associated with private developments/redevelopments can have a significant impact on increasing future water supply reliability. 

“We implement water conservation and reuse features in all the projects we work on,” notes Stephanie Castle Zinn, a Senior Water Resources Specialist at Fuscoe Engineering. “We believe that remarkable places are more than just the perception or aesthetic of an appealing place, but the functionality and cohesiveness of the surrounding environment and how it fits in.” 

Capture and reuse design is mostly about catching water, treating it, and reusing it again. The cost for a gray water filter in a garage is about $5,000. The function is to recycle water used for laundry and from sinks and then use it to water lawns or flush toilets. On a community or regional scale with the implementation of larger scale treatment systems, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water can be saved each day from reuse of water from homes, commercial buildings, stores, and hotels. 

As engineers, it is easy for us to design avid watering features and we give our clients a menu of solutions, but it requires getting the developers on board.

Zinn has experienced some of the challenges in implementing these reuse solutions including the hurdle that “regulations have not quite caught up to the technologies that are at our finger tips. The codes have to catch up and we predict they will. Another issue is when developers inquire about long-term cost savings, we really can only make an educated guess. We welcome more research so we can help our builder clients use water more efficiently while helping their project save water and money.”

We also like to promote types of storm-water management that are based on retention: infiltrating the storm-water to recharge groundwater, capturing storm-water and reusing it to offset potable water demands, or incorporating green streets into our design. 

A stunning fact is that 25 percent of our land is covered by streets. These sterile hard surfaces do nothing for the environment. Why not make them permeable so they breathe and then rainfall can soak back into the ground and recharge our groundwater aquifers?

We are actually designing streets now with curbs and gutters that are permeable and gray as a reflective color to decrease the temperature. These are all considered multi-benefit solutions that improve water quality and increase water quantity.

In 2014, California was the last state in America to pass statewide mandates for managing groundwater resources. Developers are going to have to spend more time and money evaluating the consequences of their development for our water systems.

Increasing groundwater recharge through infiltration systems and incorporating sustainable water reuse features into project designs are ways that developers can make a big difference. Our hope for the future is that using water more than once becomes more than a trend and will be accepted as due course.

Patrick R. Fuscoe, P.E., is CEO of Fuscoe Engineering, Inc., a full spectrum civil engineering firm headquartered in Irvine, Calif. He may be reached at

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