Travis County will use recycled wastewater to cool the chillers that provide to air conditioning to four county buildings, saving 10 million gallons of water a year, Commissioner Brigid Shea announced Tuesday.
That’s the equivalent of taking 150 homes off city water permanently, Shea said, “so we are dramatically expanding our water supply by not wasting it in an epic fashion for air conditioning.”
The reuse is possible because of a program run by the city of Austin, Shea said. Instead of wasting drinking water, she said, the city’s program enables commercial users to use treated wastewater that would ordinarily be discharged into the Colorado River.
The county also will reuse water by capturing moisture from the evaporator coils in the cooling systems, rather than draining it to the sewer.
The switch will cost the county about $1.2 million for engineering and construction involving the four buildings, but the change will save $136,000 a year from the lower cost of recycled water, Shea said. That means the county will start to see a return on its investment in about nine years.
So far, the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse, 1000 Guadalupe St., and the Ned Granger Administration Building, 314 W. 11th St., are online, said Roger El Khoury, director of the county’s Facilities Management Department.
The reclaimed water system at the County Administration building, 700 Lavaca St., is under construction and will take three months to finish. The change-over at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center, 509 West 11th St., which is connected to the Gault Building, 505 West 11th St., will go up for bid next week and take about six months to finish, El Khoury said.
“We live in a pretty dry area,” said Daryl Slusher, an assistant director of Austin Water Utility. “There’s going to be more extremes as climate change continues to take hold, and it’s more important than ever that we do things to save our water.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story quoted Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea giving an incorrect estimate of the equivalent amount of water used by single-family households relative to a new county conservation effort that will save 10 million gallons of water a year. The correct equivalent number of households this compares to based on annual water consumption by the average single-family household is 150.