It’s all about water

Jun 18, 2018

Reducing consumption and finding new ways to re-use water will become increasingly important as populations grow.

In Reno, as in other parts of the world, water will continue to be a problem as our population expands. Reno is especially challenged because it is in a high desert with a very dry climate, so evaporation is very high. As we approached development of the West 2nd District, we were determined to be leaders in sustainability. So, from the early stages of planning, we focused on using less water.

Our initial thrust was to recycle the water we used. We explored several systems and began working with Tom Puttman (whom I knew from Portland, Oregon) to develop a water recycling system. Tom is the founder of Puttman Infrastructure which designs, builds, owns, and operates on-site sewage treatment plants that also recover water. We’ll be creating a treatment plant in our project that will reduce water consumption by 50 percent, compared to connecting each building to the local water supply and the waste to the city of Reno’s sewer system.

The net effect will be quite dramatic. Not only will we reduce the water charged to the West 2nd District residents by half, but we will also significantly reduce the project’s sewer charges. This will be good for people living and working here, but will be even better for the environment.

The recycled water will be “gray” water, not potable. If a person drank it, it wouldn’t make them sick. It just wouldn’t taste very good. We’ll be able to use gray water for landscape irrigation, to keep our cooling towers filled and to flush our toilets. Our first discovery in our design calculations was that we would be producing too much recycled water, and the regional authorities wouldn’t allow us to put it into the Truckee River, directly adjacent to our site.

So, we came up with another strategy. We’ll be building 5,500 parking stalls in conjunction with the project, many of which will become redundant as autonomous vehicles hit the road, starting in about three years. The timing couldn’t be better. Just at the time people begin to use autonomous vehicles for local transportation, avoiding the cost of owning, insuring, and maintaining a second car, we’ll have quite a number of excess spaces.

So, what to do with them? We’ll be building our parking garages with predominantly flat floors, suitable for transforming them into indoor, hydroponic gardens. We hope to be able to start an urban farm that will be able to supply fruits and vegetables, grown locally and picked fresh daily. This will allow us to utilize the balance of our recycled water. Along with solar-generated electricity from our rooftops to power LED lamps, color tunable to exactly the color that the plants want to grow best, we’ll be making use of everything in the project to reduce water use, reduce waste, and save money for our residents and tenants. On top of that, residents and restaurants in the district will have ready access to the freshest of vegetables. Ever tasted kale picked fresh? Instead of the bitter, tough greens I’ve had from a grocery store, it’s delightfully sweet and tender.

Recently, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Stanford, discovered new ways to not just make recycled water suitable for cooling towers and irrigation but also to make it drinkable as well. A whole new approach to making nanotechnology filters will soon allow the water to be potable at a very reasonable price.

A new organization in Reno, called the Nevada Water Innovation Campus, has representatives from our local University, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, the City of Reno, Washoe County, and the Desert Research Institute, along with several other Nevada cities and other entities concerned with water. This effort will allow us to share resources to make Reno a model for conserving and reusing water.

Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted as all of us progress on this very important issue.

Edward Friedrichs, FAIA, FIIDA, is the former CEO and president of Gensler. Contact him at

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