Voted several years running by Fortune Magazine as one of the country’s best companies to work for, DPR Construction aims to be more progressive than its competitors, continually pushing the envelope. For instance, it earned a LEED platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) last year with their Shoreham Place Office. What sets the DPR facility apart from the 11 other LEED platinum certified buildings in the County, however, is that it’s the first commercial net zero building, producing the equivalency of its annual energy needs from renewable sources. In fact, first year out of the stocks its rooftop PV panels generated 12,000 excess kilowatt-hours (kWh).

The experienced green building professionals at DPR know that being “green” is no longer a novelty. A company committed to staying ahead of the curve, their newly established Innovation Group lead by former SoCal regional manager, Jim Washburn, serves to accelerate “the adoption of innovative ideas and initiatives on a national level.” By voluntarily plunging into the growing green market and assuming industry leadership, they are developing a cost effective delivery model that results in 90% of their annual sales volume being generated from repeat customers and in projects, including their award winning green LEED/net zero projects, being completed under budget.

Although this achievement is certainly commendable, it should be noted that they selected to use potable water in their toilets rather than diverted greywater or roof runoff and although they designed a cistern to collect greywater from onsite showers (for which they earned LEED credits), they are not currently utilizing it. If the technology didn’t exist, I’d have few faults to cite. But it does, and has, which begs the question as to why DPR didn’t also aim to fulfill its non potable water needs by incorporating roof runoff collection and greywater diversion systems into the high profile project as the country's first LEED platinum building did more than ten years ago. As SDG&E’s newly constructed 27,000 square foot LEED platinum Innovation Center on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard currently does.

With only three percent of the planet’s water fit for human consumption, it seems incomprehensible to be flushing any portion of that down the toilet. I learned the basic premise, “Don’t Shit Up Stream from the Drinking Hole,” in Girl-Scout-Wilderness-Etiquette 101. Yet, we, an evolved civilized populace of a ‘developed’ nation living in the new millennium, take dumps in water we could otherwise be dunking our tea bags in.

I’d suggest that perhaps I was missing something vital, which does happen, if it weren’t for the likes of the town of Avalon on nearby Catalina Island demonstrating good sense in utilizing seawater—not drinkable H2O--in its toilets. If it weren’t for the fact that many green buildings—even long before but certainly since the establishment of the USGBC and its associated incentive credits—have already employed stormwater roof runoff reclamation and greywater reuse systems as conservation measures.

With an average annual rainfall of only 16 inches, there admittedly isn’t much roof runoff in these parts to collect, comparatively speaking. That doesn’t mean catchment and reuse of the little there is shouldn’t still be required since water is, after all, a commodity most of us pay for, twice over. According to the County’s Department of Public Works, a 1,000 square foot roof can harvest 600 gallons of roof runoff from an inch of rain. The 9,600 gallons a full 16 inches of rain per year would generate consitutes15% of the average San Diego family’s annual water usage.

The EPA estimates that the average American family uses 400 gallons of water every day—all potable, 27% of which goes down the toilets, 21% of which is discarded from laundry machines. Households produce –on the average--approximately 82 gallons of greywater, (or 30,000 gallons a year), from laundry facilities alone and flush away ~ 70 gallons each day. Commercial entities such as hotels, hospitals and gymnasiums, obviously, produce mucho greywater. Whereas rainfall may be in short supply in San Diego, greywater’s a plenty.

A 2010 climate change survey conducted by the San Diego Foundation demonstrated that citizens are concerned about global warming and want local governments to address the issue by leading the State in implementing proactive measures that would curb anticipated effects, the foremost voter concern being dwindling water resources. California Code of Regulations Title 22 allows reuse of recycled water in toilets and the USGBC grants points for water conservation as well as for greywater reuse. Yet, neither the City’s Green Building Standards (900-14) nor the County’s mandate water conservation/greywater reuse technologies to be utilized in non government construction projects, not even in the large commercial projects conducted by the top consumers. Both policies are strictly designed to promote resource consumption efficiency in the construction industry through expediting plan review and permit issuance. Neither entity has assumed an aggressive proactive leadership role in ensuring the State accomplishes its resource conservation goals within the next eight years by amping up the corporate ante.

The San Diego region has many 303(d) designated impaired waterways including 20 some odd beaches, the most common cause of impairment being fecal bacteria. San Diego is also a non attainment area for clean air standards. The Clean Air Act set pollution reduction mandates and established penalties for transgressors. The Resource Conservation and Recovery as well as the Waste Reduction and Prevention Acts have similar standards and fees. But, no such penalties exist that would serve to address the massive amounts of water streaming off urban rooftops when it does rain here carrying pollutants into eroding stream beds, or the huge surges of greywater plummeting unchecked into the overtaxed and aging sewer systems. EPA’s nonpoint pollution prevention program simply encourages the use of “best management practices (BMPs)”, so the County and City do the same. The installation of gutters, cisterns or rain barrels remains voluntary.

According to the Oakland based Pacific Institute, greywater diversion systems can potentially reduce domestic water consumption by up to 50%. Low cost two-way valve diversion systems can easily be installed allowing users to adjust the knob thereby directing drain water into the sewer lines, into toilet tanks or to outdoor irrigation systems. The City of San Diego Development Service Division conducts instructional workshops for a $60 fee to those interested in learning how to tap into their own greywater by structuring reuse systems onsite.

A little conservation among the large commercial and institutional consumers like hospitals, hotels and gymnasiums, however, would go a long way. The EPA citing a study by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority calculates that hospitals consume up to 350 gallons of water per patient each day, mostly for showers and BM disposal. Hotels are also water hogs, consuming up to 400 gallons per day per room.

When more than 90% of the local water supply is imported from as far away as the Colorado River, it seems logical that self professed progressive leaders like DPR would initiate excellence in water conservation standards as well in the realm of renewable energy. If the company, ranked the 7th largest builder of hospitals-- 20% of whose utility bill is related to water and sewer costs, can demonstrate several times over cost effective net zero green construction, I’m guessing they can devise a cost savings water reuse and conservation system model for their clients. With or without government mandates.


richzombie March 20, 2012 @ 12:04 p.m.

great info and as always the writing is superb


quillpena March 21, 2012 @ 12:53 p.m.

Usable information, and, yes, I agree, professional writing too.


Twister March 21, 2012 @ 3:32 p.m.

As usual, I'm impressed by the writing and the scholarship.

But I gotta tell ya, water conservation, while intuitively the right thing to do, has blowback effects. Namely, it fosters new development, which means more consumers, which means higher prices to the most conserving who have the lowest ability to pay while allowing the powers-that-be to continue to delude themselves about the finite nature of the supply and the infinite nature of the demand.

It is, unfortunately, just one more way the one percent is floating to the top on the backs of the 99 percent. (Actually, it's more like the top 0.1 percent and the 99.9 percent.)


nan shartel March 21, 2012 @ 3:48 p.m.

when they start allowing reasonable amounts of water to farming in the Imperial Valley because i was careful with my consumption then i'll be more careful!!

when they have to pull up 100 year old Almonds trees for lack of water when it's really only a paper tiger of water lack i'm not only confused but outraged

tell us more Twister!!


Ruth Newell March 21, 2012 @ 3:58 p.m.

I'll be impressed when "they", (meaning WE as voting taxpayers), mandate catchment of all greywater from hotels, hospitals and gyms to be utilized in agriculture. A report was conducted a few years ago that ran the numbers and assessed the cost effectiveness and available technologies and the recommendations where nothing but 'A Go' all 'round.


Twister March 21, 2012 @ 7:10 p.m.

The pulling up of almond trees is almost certainly a handy publicity stunt fostered by a propaganda machine. That is, I'll lay you odds that there was another reason that they needed to be pulled or they wanted to pull them. (Follow the Money--FTM)

The Imperial Valley is a very wasteful place to practice agriculture, and is an example of bringing highly marginal (and cheap!) land into production, significantly at the expense of the taxpayers. Those farms require HUGE amounts of water. The evaporation rate is EXTREMELY high, as is the transpiration rate. On top of that, they must over-irrigate to leach salts, which, along with pesticides and other contaminants, end up in the Salton Sewer (Sea).

We have to be VERY WARY of propaganda, PARTICULARLY "green" propaganda. The Mad Ave types who are the lackeys for the 99 percent who control agribusiness are very adept at deception, subterfuge, and demagoguery, and have learned psycho-judo so well they can take a perfectly good word or slogan and turn it into a shine job.


Ruth Newell March 21, 2012 @ 10:44 p.m.

Agree with you on desert farming. But, I don't have the same opinion of the Salton Sea. And, frankly, you lost me in the last paragraph. Although the "green movement" is economic in nature, many, many of the principles and technology promoted by it aren't new or novel. I don't much appreciate anything that's milked for money. But, I AM a tree hugging, a- political, non religious, diversified principled feminist whose been in the conservation field before it became big money. I don't have much patience for excuses when its all been done. Is being done, under budget even. When it is undeniably do able. So, I've gotta fess to being in the other camp. I think we should be wary of doing nothing, of doing too little too late.


Twister March 25, 2012 @ 11:53 p.m.

Either the drainage water going into the Salton Sea is polluted by agriculture or it isn't. It ain't a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact. Maybe look into the biological history of the Salton Sea?

I'm an organism-hugging, life-loving, non-religious, diversified, principled, pro-female male who has zero patience for excuses too, but I don't understand what is "being done, under budget." What, exactly, is "do-able?" What "camps" are you talking about?

I agree that "we" should be wary of doing nothing or doing too little too late. But I also am wary of doing too much, especially when it is misdirected and falls too often into the category of window-dressing that squanders resources and energy on misguided priorities.

"Water conservation," for example, appeals to our common sense and tendency toward self-righteousness, but as a governmental policy it translates into avoidance coping rather than facing up to the reality that the real "solution" to "water shortage" is to reduce the number of consumers rather than to insist that there will be no end to the number of consumers/land developments. The ignored reality is that water allocation will be shifted according to price and that those with the greatest need and the lowest ability to pay will continue to actually suffer INCREASINGLY while the biggest, richest consumers will continue to enjoy plenty at a scandalously subsidized rate that is a tiny fraction of their disposable income while the poorest are squeezed hardest.


Ruth Newell March 26, 2012 @ 3:07 p.m.

Oh, absolutely. That seems to be the given of my life, thus far, regrettably. I simply meant that--as with anything else--its a matter of interpretation. We generally tend to believe what we want to believe--my mother was right once again. The reports I've read pertaining to the development of the Sea and the wildlife that's dependent upon it, as well as to the current water quality would indicate that there is little fertilizer contamination actually leaching into the Salton Sea. I, also, compared the water quality ratings of all impaired waterways in the County.

I stated that they have completed LEED platinum net-zero construction projects under budget, thus the under budget reference. What's being done and what's been done cost effectively is a wide array of 'green' conservation technologies. Any conservation measure would seem to me to be well guided efforts, esp. if goes beyond 'green washing'. And, from my experience in the field these last 30 years, it is often the low end, low cost approaches that often provide the highest yield. Reducing the number of consumers is the first logical answer to reducing the quantity being consumed. I am an outspoken advocate for freezing all new development on virgin land, and requiring all development to occur in redevelopment areas, and to build up rather than out. AND, I'm also in favor of not building at all unless there is actually a deficit of available units--as well as regulating population control to manage demand. But, that's not a topic discussed in polite conversation, so I've been told. lol


Twister March 26, 2012 @ 4:50 p.m.

You would be doing a real public service if you published a summary of your analysis with references to (or actually including) supporting data. I agree that it is often the low-end, low cost approaches that provide the highest yield, but I would like to have some specifics from your vast store of knowledge. I have developed just such approaches, and have found that unless there is a lot of money in it there is little interest. It also would be interesting to know something about your professional history--without blowing your cover, of course.

There is no current policy of which I am aware that restricts new development of any kind. Therefore, any savings through water conservation would not only not improve the status of water availability, it would worsen (or, if you prefer, exacerbate) it. DRAMATICALLY.


nan shartel March 22, 2012 @ 1:53 p.m.

this saddens me Twister because i bought that story on PBS hook line and sinker...when i can't trust PBS who can i trust??

can Mother Earth still be trusted???

who can be trusted???

i don't expect it to be a single entity...have any suggestion Roody or Twister...or anyone???


Ruth Newell March 21, 2012 @ 3:50 p.m.

Nothing at all new about water conservation, recycling, or many other green technologies, actually. I--myself--have never paid for water anywhere I've lived--been very fortunate in that regard. Yet, even wells dry up from time to time and I was raised conserving most everything, including water. But, I AM curious as to how exactly, in your opinion, conserving water fosters new development, Twister?


Twister March 21, 2012 @ 6:56 p.m.

I want you to think about it first. It's obvious, but we have been carefully hoodwinked into thinking about it righteously. It's one of those kind of things one hits one's head with the palm of one's hand when the light bulb goes on. It ain't a matter of opinion, it's a matter of arithmetic. But it does require a willing suspension of belief to get there.


fad444 March 21, 2012 @ 10:29 p.m.

Great information and I agree well written. I always learn so much from reading your articles and it makes one wonder why after spending the kind of money it takes to build a building of this kind, why not do a little research and go all the way. Thanks for the informative work that you do. Go Green !!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Twister March 25, 2012 @ 11:59 p.m.

How much water does the mayor use? How much does the mayor need? How much has the mayor reduced his water consumption during his time in office?

How much water do the "water-conservation gardens" use per unit area? How much have the water conservation gardens reduced their water consumption since their inception?


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