Water recycling system at new elementary school will cut use by 90%

Education

WIMBERLEY, Texas (KXAN) — The newest elementary school in Wimberley will be the most water-efficient school in the state, conservation groups and planners hope.

The school, funded through 2018 bond money, will gather rainwater and air conditioning condensate to flush toilets; that wastewater will then be treated on-site and used to irrigate fields.

Planners say the system will cut water use at the school by 90% and save the district as much as $1 million over the next 30 years.

Students will see the system up close, too: Clear pipes running through the library will showcase how the water flows from the roof into the collection tanks.

“It’s a really incredible thing for those kids to see at a very young age,” said Nick Dornak, director of watershed services at the Meadows Center at Texas State University. Dornak and his team first approached Wimberley ISD with the conservation idea last fall, and together with the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association (WVWA), they put the plans in place.

Planners say this project is the first “One Water” school in the state, a designation that signifies using the right water source for the right job. The source to flush toilets, for instance, doesn’t need to be as clean as drinking water, Dornak explained.

“We are going to have to start doing things better and smarter if we are going to avert a major water crisis in Texas,” he said. “We have really reached our capacity for how much we can grow without developing expensive new water projects.”

David Baker, WVWA’s executive director, called the project an “important example” of how new developments can keep more water underground where it belongs. His group passed along a $200,000 grant and provided an additional $50,000 to design and engineer the system.

The campus will also be covered with permeable surfaces, Dornak said, as opposed to solid concrete. That will allow rain to filter back into the earth where it falls instead of running off, so in addition to drawing less water from underground, the school will help replenish the resources that feed Jacob’s Well and other natural Hill Country areas.

The system also includes a separate potable supply for drinking water and washing hands and dishes. All those uses, Dornak said, will account for less than two gallons of water per student per day, a drastic cut from traditional designs that estimate 15-20 gallons per student per day.

The potable reserve will also step in to flush toilets during drought; plans factor in 30 years of historical rainfall data and will function as planned 99% of the time.

Dornak hopes other districts around the state will look to the Wimberley plans as a model for how to conserve in their areas. Future plans may also include a more thorough purification system to use collected water for drinking, too.

“We’d like to take it there,” Dornak said. “We would like to get a school like this completely off the grid. So I think that that will be the next step, but this was just a really fantastic opportunity to take advantage of the resources that we had and the time that we had.”

Wimberley ISD plans to open the school for the 2020-2021 school year.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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