Tap, Waste & Storm… The Three Waters Project

By Kirsten Allen

3Waters_large_jmonroe-9926The Three Waters Project aims to reduce water waste by 50% (from 2008 levels) by 2050, a goal as laudable as it is difficult to achieve. Their secondary goal is to revive and rehabilitate Corvallis watersheds to the point that cold water fish native to these parts will again thrive, which is itself a good indicator of the health of our waters. To meet these goals, they employ “both ancient and state-of-the art techniques,” according to their own description, as well as relying on the community to pitch in.

The project is named for the consideration of tap, waste, and storm water, and has seen efforts from several groups of people.

“The Coalition’s Water Action Team, consisting of community volunteers, has collaborated with the Crescent Valley High School Advance Placement Environmental Class and the OSU Schools of Horticulture and Engineering,” said Dave Eckert, head of the Water Conservation Coalition, of the group. The Water Action Team, one of 12 community action teams, developed a plan to take an existing local business and use it as a demonstration for water conservation in hopes of increasing awareness and care of local streams and waterways.

On this most recent Earth Day, the South Town Co-Op saw a considerable crowd as Eckert led a tour of rainwater harvesting systems, displaying what has proven to be a highly successful effort to reduce and reuse rain and storm water discharge.

The co-op proved to be an ideal location for several reasons. First, because it is fully developed and thus difficult to work with, it has all the right problems that businesses may face and overcome when looking to implement their own water efficiency plans. Second, it’s a commercial site and is open all year, and with the ownership of 10,000 community residents, the staff was naturally easy to work with. Lastly, the funds for the project would be available and provided through the city sustainability fund and city donations.

After about a year of planning and consideration, the Water Action Plan came up with its 50% goal, the first of its kind, and the water efficiency plan became part of the co-op business.
The main building of the co-op has nine rain tanks that drain over 5,000 square feet of roof and can collectively store 5,400 gallons of water that can be drained into a rain garden located on the south side of the building. The tanks reduce a whopping 190,000 gallons of storm water drainage to Mill Race Creek, which has a habit of flooding Highway 99S whenever it’s hit by a big rain. The south parking lot rain garden, the largest of four on the site, was built by digging up two parking spaces and replacing the area with four cubic yards of highly permeable organic rich soil, a task assisted by four Crescent Valley High students as part of their senior project. The garden will hold 7,000 gallons of water before it overflows, and hosts an array of native vegetation including sedge grasses, rush grass, Oregon grapes, camas, violets, and iris, most of which were planted from seeds provided by Seven Oaks Native Nursery.

Along with the nine tanks serving the roof of the main building, an additional five are filled by storm water drainage from the meeting room roof. Eighth graders from Waldorf Middle School decorated two of the 3,000-gallon tanks with murals representing two main water systems: Mary’s Peak and the Willamette. The area near the coffee shop and meeting room displays five different types of permeable pavers and features a bicycle water pump, designed by three OSU engineering students, which pulls water from the rain tanks and has the ability to water up to a quarter acre of land. A fountain, once rain by tap water, uses stormwater from the rain tanks and sits among raised flower beds, which are also used to trap rainwater.

What this means in a nutshell is that the model works. Not all businesses in Corvallis will have the infrastructure to support such a project as ready-made as the co-op, but that doesn’t mean they can’t employ the same techniques to greatly reduce our water waste as a community.

3Waters_large_jmonroe-9994The tap water portion of the Three Waters Project was designed by three OSU engineering students, who designed a system in which water from the river (upstream) goes to the tap water treatment, where it is then used in sinks. Rather than flowing back to the treatment center, it travels to the onsite grey water collection and treatment. Once treated by filtration, it is used in toilets, and then is sent to wastewater treatment and finally moved downstream.

The water coalition team has been able to meet and exceed its goal to eliminate discharge by 50% in both waste water and tap water, and Eckert feels very confident that with additional funding through grant money, they will be able to do so with storm water as well, where a 38% benchmark has thus far been achieved. By continuing their efforts through projects, as well as obtaining utilities with higher water efficiency capacities, the water coalition team strives to set an example with the co-op that can be followed by both residential and commercial building owners. It is much more cost effective to install water-efficient systems when building rather than retrofit existing structures, but as the water coalition team has already proven, it can be done.

The Water Action Team teaches free classes twice a year, and is looking to take their show on the road with the help of OSU students and generous sponsors. For information regarding the Three Waters Project, visit their website at http://sustainablecorvallis.org/action-teams/water/.

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