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New local organization capitalizes on recycled water

Alternative water use in drought-stricken state

When the time comes for lawn watering, why use water fresh from the tap when the option of recycled water is available?

Recycled water, or reclaimed water, is wastewater that is treated through physical, chemical and biological processes. This type of water can be used on different landscaping, turf, gardens and crops. However, it is not potable.

For Palo Alto residents, the use of recycled water is brought to them by an environmentally minded organization called RainDance.

RainDance is a Palo Alto-based watering service that reclaims surplus treated water and uses it for residential landscape irrigation. The organization's goal is to allow environmentally conscious homeowners to water their gardens and lawns responsibly. In addition to Palo Alto, RainDance also can serve residents in Atherton, Los Altos, Menlo Park, Portola Valley and Woodside.

Chris Zaharias, a Palo Alto native, founded RainDance this past October. Katherine Glassey, a Palo Alto resident since 1986, became the CEO of the organization in the spring. At first, she was just a RainDance customer. As demands for the service started to pick up and Zaharias began to feel overwhelmed, Glassey stepped in to help him run the company.

Glassey enjoys gardening, which she described as "relaxing and fun." Zaharias also saw her interest in the subject.

"I have a really good self-taught, but pretty deep, understanding of what kinds of plants do well and what kinds of plants do not," Glassey said.

She said that the recycled water that RainDance makes available comes from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant, a water treatment facility in Palo Alto.

"They treat it really carefully so it's available for all other uses, other than drinking," Glassey said.

The plant removes unwanted organic materials and toxins from approximately 22 million gallons of wastewater a day. This water that is owned and operated by the City of Palo Alto is also for the communities of East Palo Alto Sanitary District, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View and Stanford University.

At the Water Quality Plant, the recycled water can be picked up for free. The RainDance staff fills its 2,000-gallon water delivery trucks with reclaimed water, and then drive to homes to deep-soak gardens with double-wide hoses. Standard residential service brings water once a week and takes about 30 minutes.

In Palo Alto, it costs less than $400 a month for 1,000 gallons of water every other week, and it costs $325 for a one-time "deep soak" with 2,000 gallons.

Linda DeMeo, also an avid gardener and Palo Alto resident, and her husband used RainDance's service to water their yard, which was a positive experience for them.

"We found the personnel to be more than helpful, and (they) did their job," DeMeo said.

She said that RainDance was very attentive to what she and her husband wanted in their yard to be sprayed and to what extent. She even enjoyed the opportunity to use a RainDance hose to water.

"They let me spray (the yard) myself, which was fun," DeMeo said.

DeMeo finds what RainDance does to be "very clever," and believes that she and her husband will most likely use the service again.

Zaharias said that they should use recycled water for their services, since no one else is really using it.

"It is the essence of what makes this business ... this enterprise feasible," he said.

Canopy is a Palo Alto organization that focuses on providing life-giving benefits of trees to schools, neighborhoods and public spaces on the Midpeninsula. Like RainDance, Canopy is also concerned with cultivating a healthy environment.

Catherine Martineau, executive director of Canopy, said that as an organization, Canopy sees the value recycled water can have. However, she pointed out one concern with it: salinity. This type of water, especially at the Water Quality Plant, contains a high salt content.

"Plants cannot eliminate salt," she said.

This use of recycled water is coming at a time when the state of California is faced with not only a drought, but also restrictions in water use. Back in April, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order for a mandatory statewide water-use reduction. More than 400 urban water supply agencies in the state are expected to reduce water consumption by 25 percent.

In Palo Alto, citywide water use must be reduced by 24 percent from the period of June 1, 2015, to Feb. 28, 2016. The water usage must also be reported to California's State Water Resources Control Board on a monthly basis. In addition, landscape irrigation was limited to no more than two days a week for residents and businesses.

According to the United States Drought Monitor, nearly all of California is facing intense drought. As of July 14, 1.15 percent of California was listed as facing an abnormally dry drought, 4.12 percent was in a moderate drought, 23.51 percent was in a severe drought, 25.08 percent was in an extreme drought, and 46 percent was in an exceptional drought. Only 0.14 percent was not listed as facing any drought.

Zaharias is concerned that California could be entering a mega-drought: one that could last for the next 10 to 50 years.

"Water is something that we need to live," Zaharias said.

Glassey said, whether or not there is a drought, the use of reclaimed water is still valuable.

"It's the right thing to do any year," she said.

With the drought and imposed water limitations, residents are expected to exercise more control over their water use.

"We have to be smarter (with) the water that we do have," Glassey said.

Martineau also said that it is important to conserve all types of water, whether they are for lawns or trees, and she does not want people to use those water sources thoughtlessly.

While Martineau is cautious about the quality of reclaimed water, she recognizes any good intention behind an attempt to help the environment.

"The use of alternative sources of water is important, and Canopy is very supportive of using alternative sources of water," Martineau said.

RainDance does not recommend using recycled water as a sole source for watering, but rather an additional one. Zaharias said that while potable water is ideal, the ongoing drought has made them get creative with water use.

He and Glassey express awareness for what water is best for the environment, and Glassey said that RainDance wants to be "part of the solution."

"Every drop makes a difference," Glassey said.

Jamauri Bowles is an editorial intern at Palo Alto Weekly.

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4 people like this
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 24, 2015 at 12:00 pm

I think DrainDance would be a much better name.

2 people like this
Posted by Catherine Martineau, Executive Director of Canopy
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 24, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Unfortunately this article is missing some important information.

The recycled water currently delivered by RainDance -- or PurplePipe for that matter -- is not suitable for the irrigation of trees. Woody plants, and trees in particular, cannot eliminate salts and are damaged by it. In Palo Alto, most soils are clayey and accumulated salts cannot be leached. Long term, the soil composition is altered.

The Palo Alto City Council recognizes the issue with the salinity of the recycled water produced by the Palo Alto Water Quality Control Plant. In 2009, the Council adopted a Salinity Reduction Policy with a target of 600 ppm. While progress has been made towards this goal, the current level is around 850 ppm.

Consequently, at this time it's better to use potable water for trees. They do not need a lot of water but it's important to preserve the investment they represent. Refer to Canopy's website to determine how much irrigation your trees need in this drought and the best way to do it. Web Link

We can save our water and our trees!

3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 24, 2015 at 2:41 pm

So since the water comes from:

--- She said that the recycled water that RainDance makes available comes from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant, a water treatment facility in Palo Alto.

-- Does that mean the city makes money on reselling to RainDance? If so, will we be seeing a reduction on our rates which keep rising?

How much does the service cost?

Is Raindance free to PA residents since it comes from the PA Water Quality Control Plant? Also, is the city itself using it when watering parks, median strips, etc.?

What does Raindance's re-use of the water do to our city's usage statistics?

2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 24, 2015 at 6:12 pm

"-- Does that mean the city makes money on reselling to RainDance? If so, will we be seeing a reduction on our rates which keep rising?"

The city charges nothing for treated sewer water. Come and get all you can carry away.

"What does Raindance's re-use of the water do to our city's usage statistics?"

Infinitesimal effect.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 25, 2015 at 8:25 am

@Online Name:

The recycled water from the Regional Water Quality Control Plant is free. You are welcome to drive to the plant with your own containers and grab what you want.

"How much does the service cost?"

RainDance's business model is based on the delivery and application of the water. Contact them for their rates (they have different programs based on plot size) or feel free to ask them where they bought their 1000 gallon tanker trucks.

Good luck!

3 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

Chris Zaharias is a registered user.

@ Polly: I like DrainDance, good call!

@ Jamauri: thanks for writing this article! A couple corrections/additions:
1) our trucks hold 2000 gallons;
2) RainDance's # is 650-935-LAWN

@ Roger Overhaut: every journey starts with a single step. We're reducing potable water usage by 20-30K gallons/day, and growing *rapidly*. That's ~50 homes' worth of total usage. We can get to 500-5000 homes and sustain that pace before we run out of recycled water. There are ~250 water treatment plants in California. If 1/2 of them get tapped the same way we're doing here PA, that's a single-digit impact on potable water use in CA. Maybe now that doesn't seem like a lot, but if this drought continues, that's months more time before we run dry.

@ Catherine Martineau: of course you're right, info's missing. We're telling all our water users that the solution is recycled water *in combination* with potable water. 50% 850ppm water + 50% 30ppm potable water yields a 440ppm average that is 25%+ below Canopy's 600ppm target. Also, keep in mind that with RainDance CEO Katherine Glassey's guidance, we're tending to apply more of our water to grass/lawn, both for TDS reasons and [more importantly] for time efficiency. I think everyone agrees that while the ideal is potable water use only, the drought forces us to get creative while working together for the continued health of our landscapes.

Like this comment
Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2015 at 5:33 pm

I would be hesistant to use treated sewage water to water my shrubs and trees because of this salinity.
Groundwater is much better.
Most plants and trees prefer groundwater to treated water from Hetch Hetchy.
They tolerate the water treated with chloramines, but would do better on groundwater.

The recycled sewage water should be used for something else until they are able to correct this problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Avid gardener
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2015 at 6:11 pm

For those of us who do not have access to a well, and who believe strongly that we need to preserve our fresh water for drinking, using reclaimed water as a second source of landscape water seems like a responsible choice.

Like this comment
Posted by Brenna Malmberg
associate editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Aug 3, 2015 at 9:44 am

Brenna Malmberg is a registered user.

Thank you, everyone, for your thoughts and comments this far. The staff has updated the story to reflect the 2,000-gallon truck, the free recycled water and costs of the RainDance service.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2017 at 10:48 am

It looks like after the heavy rains last year, most of the local companies that supplied recycled water are out of business. Except for Joe of Purple pipe.

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