Abstract - Water infrastructure requirements will be reaching crisis proportions in the coming
years. Increasing urban populations, drought conditions due to climate change, and increasing
EPA rule limits for drinking water contaminants set the tone for diminishing water resources.
The American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives a
grade of “D” for much of America’s drinking water infrastructure. The report states that capital
funding has not kept pace with the needs for water infrastructure and that state and local
governments will continue to assume the bulk of investment requirements in the coming decades.
If we think holistically, however, many of these water infrastructure needs can be offset by how
we address the historic view of buildings’ systems.
The current premise is that buildings should simply “plug-in” to existing water infrastructure.
The expectation is that a new building connects to a municipal water main and clean water flows
and that waste water is flushed away and disposed of at a municipal treatment plant. This belies
our growing institutional knowledge of holistic building design and urban development. Rather
than becoming a point source load on water infrastructure, buildings are capable of becoming
water resource generators.
Precedent models for building based rainwater harvesting, reuse and treatment systems already
exist, such as in the new San Francisco Public Utilities Commission building. This 277,500
square foot office building houses more than 900 employees, utilizes rainwater harvesting, and
has an onsite “Living Machine” reclaiming and treating all of the building’s wastewater to satisfy
100% of the water demand for the buildings low-flow toilets, urinals and irrigation. If we couple
these advanced building systems with model water conservation ordinances such as Tucson’s
rainwater harvesting and gray water stub outs, we will rethink how buildings can actually offset
water infrastructure needs.