U.S. Water News Online
DENVER -- With the worst drought on record and the most
Draconian water restrictions in the Denver metro area, necessity has
become the mother of invention in the town of Lafayette.
A Boulder, Colorado-based home builder that prides itself on its
concern for the environment is recapturing and reusing water it once
let run down the sewer drains, as well as using non-traditional
sources of water during construction.
Lafayette, for the first time, is selling non-potable water it
can't turn into drinking water. And ice shavings from the local YMCA
ice arena are being melted and used to operate a nearby outdoor
fountain and to water soccer fields.
McStain Neighborhoods is building homes in Loveland, Longmont and
Lafayette north of Denver, as well as the Stapleton and Lowry
neighborhoods. But it's the only residential builder working in
Lafayette this summer, said Doug Short, the city's public works
When Lafayette stopped issuing new residential water-tap permits
in May, McStain was the only builder that had prepaid for taps and
was therefore allowed to continue building, Short said. The city has
ordered outdoor water usage cut by 75 percent.
"We had a contractual obligation to serve those permits," he said,
adding that commercial water taps were unaffected by the residential
During construction, builders are required to flush pipes with
highly chlorinated water to ensure they're clean before the new
owners move in. Depending on the length of pipe that's flushed, it
could involve 15 minutes to an hour and more than 10,000 gallons of
water, said Mike Weiss, McStain's land development manager.
"That water would typically just be flushed down the drain," said
Eric Wittenberg, McStain's president.
Instead, this summer the company is recapturing the water and
directing it into a water tank, where the chlorine is diluted --
using other water sources -- to the point where it's safe to use on
landscaping, Wittenberg said. The company also has stopped planting
landscape in new public areas in all its projects until the fall or
spring, hoping the drought will break.
"A wet winter is a mixed blessing for us," Wittenberg said. "We're
clearly in need of water, but a wet winter means we can't build
Short is applauding McStain's conservation efforts.
"We're trying to support them, and anyone who is trying to
conserve water. Necessity is the mother of invention," he said.
But the permits that allowed McStain to move forward on the
construction only allow water use inside a home. Water needed outside
the walls -- for landscaping, for compacting the ground around and
under the foundations, utilities, roads and sidewalks, and for dust
control -- had to come from someplace else.
Traditionally, builders would buy a meter from the city, hook it
to the fire hydrant and use drinking-quality water from the hydrant
for outdoor construction needs.
But this summer, Lafayette isn't allowing that kind of usage.
Instead, for the first time, the city is selling non-potable water
from Coal Creek to builders, Short said. The creek water contains
wastewater from Superior and Louisville upstream of Lafayette and,
therefore, the city isn't allowed to treat it to drinking-quality
levels, he said.
"We haven't used it for construction before, but the drought is
forcing us to rethink things," he said.
So far the city has sold 1.5 million gallons to McStain and
builders working on commercial projects, Short said.
And over at Lafayette's local YMCA ice arena, at 95th Street and
Arapahoe Road, ice shavings from the Zamboni machine are being melted
and reused in the fountain in front of the development, said
developer John Cohagen, managing member of Snow Goose Companies. The
company donated land for the YMCA about five years ago and was also
part of the construction effort, which included buying water rights
for the complex and the ice arena.
But a recent survey found the YMCA was using more water than it
was entitled to, primarily in a chiller installed after initial
construction and for keeping the ice rink in shape, Cohagen said.
Each time the Zamboni scrapes the ice, it picks up ice shavings worth
250 gallons of water. At 15 scrapings a day, that adds up to 3,750
gallons of water a day.
"We're trying to figure out how to clean the water and reuse it on
the ice. We think we're close," Cohagen said. adding that he was
surprised at how dirty the ice gets with metal slivers from skates,
wood splinters from the boards, bacteria and lint from skaters'
Cohagen figures his company has spent about $200 on a new filter
for the water and a new system's cost could rise as high as $2,000 --
but still be cheap compared to buying more water rights for the
"Plus, it's a good thing to do, the right thing to do," Cohagen
The water has to be clean enough that it doesn't contaminate the 6
inches of base ice on the arena.
If that gets contaminated, the entire sheet of ice will have to be
melted and replaced, negating any water savings, he said.
In the meantime, the melted water from the shavings is being used
to run a large fountain in front of the YMCA complex -- the fountain
had been turned off to conserve water -- and also to water the YMCA
soccer fields, he said.
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