Austin Water and UT combine efforts to save water through reclaimed wastewater

Alexandra Dubinsky

Collaborative efforts between UT and Austin Water showed that purple is the new green at a celebration ceremony Wednesday to mark the completion of a project aimed to save water, cut costs and increase system efficiency.

A new system of purple pipes, colored to distinguish the system from potable water, was installed to link the University’s chilling stations with Austin Water’s reclaimed water system, allowing campus buildings to use filtered wastewater instead of potable water for cooling systems.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other officials turned a ceremonial valve to initiate the system. Director of Austin Water Greg Meszaros said the system is the product of a 30-year master plan.

Since the first initiative to reclaim water for irrigation in 1974, according to Austin Water, conservation efforts have led to a total of about 1.5 billion gallons of water saved annually throughout the city.

“It’s a dedication of years of planning,” Meszaros said. “Even several retired workers are here today. It’s just one project of many to come.”

Instead of discharging into the Colorado River, some water from wastewater treatment plants will now be directed to UT for uses other than drinking water, such as cooling campus buildings.

The city invested $16 million to transport the pipes to the University, according to Juan Ontiveros, the executive director for utilities and energy management. According to a press release from the Utilities and Energy Management Department, the new system will save 70 million gallons of potable water each year. In 2012, the University recovered between 50 and 60 million gallons of water to cooling towers. Between 2008 and 2011, annual recovered water ranged from 30 to 40 million gallons.

“It’s an important message for campus to understand about doing the right thing for the environment and at the same time cutting costs,” Ontiveros said. “It’s about stewardship and we all have to do our part.”

Ontiveros said, since the beginning of his career at UT, the University has improved 40 percent overall energy efficiency and a total of 25 percent water efficiency. Along with these improvements, UT is operating on the same amount of energy that it did nearly 40 years ago. “Sixteen years ago when I started, we had 9 million less square feet and yet [our usage is equivalent to] 1976 levels,” Ontiveros said. “No one in the world has ever done that.”

Patricia Clubb, vice president for University Operations, said the project directly affects students.

“It directs the budget in such a way that it puts resources into the education of students and not towards the water bill," she said.