Irvine Ranch Water District & Hyatt House: The Value of Public-Private Partnerships in Water Reuse

By Kristin Withrow posted 06-24-2021 11:10 AM



By Paul A. Cook, P.E., General Manager, Irvine Ranch Water District Hyatt

When the seven-story Hyatt House Irvine opened in 2018, one of its most unique traits was invisible to travelers: a hidden web of purple pipes delivering recycled water to all 149 guest rooms.

The hotel stands as a tribute to the innovation that can happen when a progressive water district partners with a like-minded business on a bold recycled water project.

For more than half a century, Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) has been a trailblazer in water recycling. Our customers are an indispensable part of that success story.

IRWD teamed up with Hyatt House early in its design process. The result: Hyatt House Irvine became the first hotel in the United States to use recycled water to flush every toilet and urinal in its lobby, offices pool area, and guest rooms. In 2020, the project saved almost 1.1 million gallons of drinking water. Recycled water for irrigation saved an additional 270,000 gallons.

That accomplishment required a significant and unprecedented investment by Hyatt, because it meant plumbing the entire seven-story structure with two sets of pipes — one with drinking water and another with recycled water. Hyatt’s decision to protect the environment with that infrastructure reflects the company’s corporate culture and underscores its commitment to setting aggressive goals to reduce water consumption as part of its sustainability strategy.

“Hyatt Hotels and Resorts has long been an advocate of water and energy conservation practices,” said Brett Ambrose, who was general manager of Hyatt House Irvine when the project was completed. (He is now general manager of Hyatt Place Glendale.)

Hyatt — an international company — saw benefits to pioneering dual plumbing in water-stressed California, where it can have the biggest impact on public education and industry responsiveness.

Other hotels have installed dual plumbing in lobby areas, but recycled water in guest rooms was a huge step for the industry. Before it opened to the public, Hyatt House Irvine was certified as an IRWD WaterStar Business, completing a process designed to help businesses improve efficiency, save on water bills, and show the community they value sustainability.

Now, signs near guest-room toilets educate visitors about how recycled water saves a valuable resource. Response has been extremely positive.

Projects like Hyatt House can drive change by showing what is possible with public-private partnerships.

Throughout our history, customer support has opened the door to creative water reuse in the Irvine Ranch Water District’s service area. Customers fund improvements such as on-site infrastructure. In other words, successful public-private partnerships are the result of customers willing not only to use recycled water, but to make significant financial investments to make it happen.

Customers in many ways are the heroes behind our innovation.

Initially, Irvine Ranch Water District teamed with large landholders in the mid-1960s to produce recycled water for agriculture. Irvine, California, was very rural in those days. As the community grew, so did IRWD — along with our portfolio of recycled water uses. Today, IRWD serves recycled water to almost 6,200 accounts, which use about 30,000 acre-feet per year. That’s a quarter of our total water sales.

Other public-private partnerships include:

  • The Irvine Company and its 47 dual-plumbed commercial buildings (with more on the way).
  • The University of California, Irvine, campus and the conversion of its cooling towers to recycled water (saving more than 80 million gallons of drinking water a year).
  • The Anaheim Ducks’ Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena, where recycled water is used to make ice for the rinks.

Irvine Ranch Water District is fortunate to serve a community that understands the importance of recycled water as a drinking-water conservation strategy. The district is also fortunate to have customers who support recycled water not only with words but with action.

These public-private partnerships demonstrate what is possible, and serve as a template and inspiration for others.

Paul Cook is general manager of Irvine Ranch Water District, where he is responsible for all aspects of the district’s day-to-day operations. A registered civil engineer, he has more than 30 years of experience in water and sewage system projects in the public and private sectors.