Friday, June 20, 2008

Purple Hydrants and Purple Pipes

Five years ago, I had just got home from the hospital for my second hip replacement and found that San Jose Water Company was tearing open my street to replace the 50 year-old water main. They were also adding two new fire hydrants to the main, replacing the one at the corner, which often was hit by cars that miss the slight turn to the William Street bridge over Coyote Creek.

Several years ago, the South Bay Water Recycling Project had installed a purple water main nearby on South 12th Street. Purple is the color code required for all water lines carrying recycled water. This purple pipeline was part of a $250 million project being built by the City of San Jose in response to a flow cap placed on their waste(d) water discharge permit into South San Francisco Bay under the Federal Clean Water Act. This order was issued in response to a violation by San Jose of the Endangered Species Act. The amount of fresh water being discharged all year long into the tidal sloughs was converting salt marsh habitat in the South Bay to brackish marsh, thereby destroying the habitat for two endangered species: the California Clapper Rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse.

The South Bay Water Recycling project constructed a 1500 ft. extension from the 12th St. purple pipeline to William Street Park, just across the bridge from my street, Brookwood Drive, where the water company was replacing its water main and installing the new fire hydrants. It occurred to me that this would have been the best opportunity to also extend the purple pipeline, just 200 feet away and install hydrants on both the conventional water main and the purple pipeline extension.

One of my directors on the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center Board was Andy Gere, the Water Quality Manager for the investor-owned San Jose Water Company. I called him and inquired about the idea of extending purple pipelines into new areas as the old water mains were under reconstruction and also installing purple fire hydrants as a backup for the fire suppression system in the cities neighborhoods.
This suggestion was met with more than contempt. A few weeks later, my Board held a clandestine meeting at San Jose Water Company's offices where they voted to not renew my employment contract with the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center and to shut down the organization.

In the interim, I had in my junk pile an actual fire hydrant that I decided to paint purple and give to Director Richard Santos, an elected member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board, who was a fire captain with the San Jose Fire Department before he retired. My son and I loaded the hydrant into my pickup truck and then we dollied the hydrant into the Board Room before their meeting began, placing it on the floor in front of the Board dais. At the beginning of the meeting, I addressed the Board and ceremoniously bequeathed the purple fire hydrant, and purple hydrant key to Director Santos for his future work in getting the fire department's support for installing purple fire hydarnts on all the purple pipelines in San Jose and throughout the County. Unfortunately, this issue takes a permanent back seat to Director Santos' agenda to protect his below-sea-level town of Alviso from flooding. But it was a good thought.

Last month, I requested that the Naglee Park Neighborhood Association Steering Committee agendize the subject of requesting the City of San Jose to install purple fire hydrants on the purple pipeline in the neighborhood as a backup to the fire suppression capabilities of the hydrants on the San Jose Water Company mains. Our downtown council member, Sam Liccardo, responded directly to me in an e-mail that this sounded like a "hellova good idea" so maybe the idea has some potential to be implemented in the future.

Below is the memo that I drafted on the subject to open the discussion on installing purple fire hydrants in San Jose. In an email to a friend in Houston, I mentioned to her that I was working with her brother , here in San Jose, who was the manager of the South Bay Water Recycling project, to install purple fire hydrants.
With tongue-in-cheek, she wrote back with the query: "So are the purple fire hydrants in California to please gay firemen or gay dogs?' I'll take any and all the support I can get.


November 3, 2003

From Patrick T. Ferraro, Executive Director
Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center

Subject: Fire Hydrants connected to South Bay Water Recycling purple pipe system

The National Board Of Fire Underwriters once set water system standards for fire flow and each city was continuously being rated for its water system capacity to protect the built environment of various parts of the city. Today that responsibility is met by the public-private partnership of the City and its water utility infrastructure providers.

The City of San Jose is rapidly densifying its urban core, relocating City Hall, and integrating with SJSU’s high new rise development. During a major conflagration in this dense new urban core, most of the water mains would be tapped to flow away from surrounding neighborhoods toward the dense downtown core.

But for some neighborhoods, there may be a backup system almost in place. Naglee Park and the Northside neighborhood are two of the areas fortunate enough to have a secondary system of Purple Pipe/Recycled Water running right through it, all along 12th Street, with feeders along San Carlos to SJSU. and east to William St. Park. However, San Jose has not begun to place purple hydrants along the any of the existing or new lines to make it available for fire fighting.

San Jose Water Company is currently replacing the 50yr+ old water mains on many neighborhood streets. They are also adding more hydrants on the blocks with inadequate spacing. But, to date, San Jose Water is NOT routinely putting a purple pipeline in the streets, nor even considering the option to hook up new hydrants to the recycled water system once it was installed. A ten-foot separation between recycled and potable pipelines is required by the State Department of Health Services.

The City and SCVWD will have invested nearly $250 million in a Recycled Water System by the time it's extended to the Metcalf Energy Center. Local decision makers are currently examining options for using the 90% unused capacity of this significant investment in water supply infrastructure. Using the SBWR system for getting better fire protection and insurance rates seem to be an untapped benefit worth pursuing.

After discussions with SCVWD Director (and former fire captain) Richard Santos and Assistant Fire Chief Jim Carter, San Jose Fire Captain Ralph Ortega requested that I research case studies where recycled water systems feed separate fire flow systems. After a week, six California cities responded to date with their stories about fire systems fed from their water recycling system. Three additional respondents have been added in this version.

Case Study #1. Sonoma State University (SSU) Fire Protection System/
Source Water: City of Santa Rosa Water Reclamation Plant and Pipelines.
Sonoma State University fire and irrigation system was constructed as a loop around the campus fed from a large open pond by an onsite pump.
Eight years ago, the City of Santa Rosa and SSU reached an agreement to have the City’s water recycling system tie in to the campus fire and irrigation system, and SSU became the major customer for recycled water, and the motivation to extend their purple pipeline system out to the campus, and capture several additional customers along the way, that would otherwise have continued using limited potable supplies within the city. The SSU system uses 40% of the current output of the Santa Rosa water reclamation plant.

The Fire Department wanted the SSU fire system to maintain 60 psi, which was a constraint during the evening hours when the irrigation system was in normally in use. Placing controllers on the pumping system, which activated the on-campus pumps at the pond when pressure dropped below the required pressure, solved this problem.
The City Master Plan includes a future 200 million gallon reservoir to be installed at an elevation sufficient to maintain this desired pressure without the need for operating the campus pumps, and will increase the overall reliability of the system. Another constraint was the requirement by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, which prohibited hydrant flushing directly into the streets and storm drain inlets. Hydrant flushes would have to be directed to landscape areas that could contain the flushing water or be conveyed by hose to a sanitary sewer access port.
For further information, contact: Mr. Dan Carlson, City of Santa Rosa
Phone: 707 543-3944; E-mail:

Case Study #2: Marriott’s Great America Amusement Park/Source Water: City of Santa Clara branch/South Bay Water Recycling (SBWR)
The Great America Amusement Park’s fire flow system is connected to the SBWR system and an onsite lake that is incorporated into the park’s landscape.
Discussions with the park’s insurer resulted in agreement that the connection to SBWR, although somewhat less reliable at 99.9%, was acceptable in comparison to the 100% reliability of the potable system due to the higher pressures provided by SBWR in the City of Santa Clara,
For further information, contact: Mr. Robin Saunders, Director of Water & Sewer Utilities, City of Santa Clara. Phone: 408 615-2011;

Case Study #3 Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD)
MMWD has about 12 hydrants in a distribution system of 25 miles. They are primarily used for flushing and providing local fill-up stations for truck hauled recycled water, which is usually practiced only in droughts due to cost of labor.

You can never have too many functioning water systems after an earthquake. As you are probably aware, fire fighting is one of the many uses recognized in Title 22, so there is no regulatory hurdle except for the fire fighters themselves. Since they use pond water, swimming pools, and other non-potable sources it is simply a matter of education to gain acceptance about tertiary water. I tell folks to think of it like swimming pool water. You wouldn't want to make a habit of drinking it, but if you did it wouldn't be a big deal.

Providing recycled water fire hydrants creates new opportunities for cross connections. I recommend that you deal with that by prohibiting any training using the recycled water hydrants. They should be saved for the "big one". Fire departments often rig up multiple connections with hoses going everywhere, so it is just too easy to x-connect to potable. In a real emergency, this risk is small compared to imminent threats to life and safety, which take precedence.

Don't count on the fire fighters knowing what a purple hydrant means. Add some kind of signage.
Contact: Bob Castle, General Manager, Marin Municipal Water District
Phone: 415 924-4600; E-mail:
Case Study #4: Fallbrook Public Utilities District
I've looked into this in the past and received opposition from the Health Dept types. Their primary concern is potential cross connections. Here's the scenario they are concerned about: A pumper truck goes and fights a fire using a hydrant on the reclaimed system. As they are mopping up they are called to another fire and when they pull up to the second location, they connect to the potable system. However, there is still recycled water in the pumper truck tank from the first fire, we now have a cross connection. I know that right about now your eyes are rolling to the back of your head and you are moaning about how "over the top" this concern is, but that's what we've heard. An additional concern that was once expressed by the fire fighters association folks was inhalation of recycled water spray and the potential health effects of that. We countered with "what about all the smoke, particulate and other fumes that they are inhaling while fighting the fire? They backed off somewhat.

Personally, I think it's a great idea and would like to see it accomplished.

Contact: Keith Lewinger, WateReuse Association, CA Chapter President and General Manager, Fallbrook Public Utilities District
Phone: 619 728-1125; E-mail:

Case Study # 5 City of Livermore
The City of Livermore has 60 standard purple fire hydrants connected to the water recycling pipelines, plus 36 buildings (including a Costco) with sprinkler systems fed with recycled water.
Contact: Dean Atkins, Supervisor, Water Reclamation Coordinator
Phone: 925-960-8125, Reclamation Plant: 925-960-8100
Contact: Bob Whitley, Engr. Consultant & WateReuse Association Director E-mail;

Case Study#6 (actually an advisory response & possible future use)
City of San Diego/San Diego County Water Agency
I don't know yet of any hydrant on any of the recycled water systems here in San Diego. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any San Diego agency that is planning to install purple hydrants. This is one area that we would probably pursue in the near future. Although Title 22 allows the use of recycled water for fire fighting in structures, I suggest that the following issues or concerns are addressed:
• Is the recycled water systems reliable? The recycled water system may be shut down for a period of time (ranging from a few hours to a few days) due to plant shut-downs or off-spec. water production. This may not be a major issue for irrigation, but it would be for fire fighting. This may be mitigated by having the ability to supplement the recycled water system with potable water, either at the plant or at various locations in the distribution system, i.e., storage tanks. The City of San Diego's North City WRP and distribution system both have this capability.
• Ability to wash or flush and disinfect fire trucks after recycled water service (unless the trucks are dedicated to recycled water service). This would probably be required judging from previous concerns raised by our local regulators with regard to cross-contamination and back-flow. Discuss this with your local regulators.
• Consider installing guard posts around purple hydrants to protect them from being run over or hit by vehicular traffic. Just an added protection; and again, judging from our local regulator's concern regarding public exposure to recycled water over spray.
Contact: Cesar Lopez, San Diego County Water Agency

Case Study #7 Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts
This is a very interesting topic, and believe it or not, it has come up
several times in the last few months, not only in our service area but in
Riverside and Clark County, Nevada. And the fire department officials have been less than supportive, believing that their firefighters are exposed to enough risks already, without getting sick from ingesting or inhaling reclaimed water from the hose spray! And, while the use of reclaimed water for fire protection is a non-consumptive application by itself, a number of our larger reuse sites (as well as the affected ones in Riverside and Nevada) have fire protection integrated with their reclaimed water system (i.e., common storage reservoirs that also provide the required fire flow). If we could not convince the fire department of the safety of reclaimed water, then numerous large users of reclaimed would have had to have been converted back to potable water. Not only that, but all of our water reclamation plants use reclaimed water for fire protection as well.

Back in June, I put together a Protocol for Fire Fighting as a way of
convincing the various fire services (starting with L.A. County) that
reclaimed water was safe and approved for such use by the State DHS. I'm attaching a copy of this report, along with the supporting data in three Excel files.
Contact: Earle C. Hartling, Water Recycling Coordinator
Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County
1955 Workman Mill Road, P.O. Box 4998, Whittier, CA 90607
tel. (562) 699-7411, x 2806, fax. (562) 908-429

Case Study #8: Dublin-San Ramon Services District
No hydrants were installed with their recycled water pipelines, but they no feel that was an oversight. Besides the benefit for backup fire fighting, the hydrants can have meters attached to enable use of the recycled water for street sweepers, construction water, and short-term irrigation for initial plant establishment periods. “The more access to the reclaimed water system, the better.”
Contact: Dave Requa, General Manager 925-875-2244

Comment #9: San Jose Water Company
As several of the case study participants (above) noted, cross connections are a very serious concern when considering adding fire hydrants to recycled water lines. In the past few years, fire departments in California have been responsible for several very serious cross connection incidents with fire fighting chemicals, including one at Alameda County Water District that contaminated water serving thousands of people. Firefighting agencies, all the way up to the State Fire Marshall level, have historically been uncooperative in working with water utilities to take measures to prevent these types of incidents from occurring in the future. I would not recommend providing hydrants on recycled water mains in any area that is already served by potable water for these reasons. To learn more about public health risks due to cross-connections, go to

Regarding potable water main replacement projects, many of these are driven by fireflow requirements alone. In many cases, San Jose Water Company is replacing water mains that have no leak history, but are undersized to meet current fire flow guidelines. The distribution storage and pumping in our system is sized almost entirely on fire flow requirements, not on consumer demand. For example, to fight the recent fire at Santana Row, San Jose
Water Company supplied firefighters with 5 million gallons of water to extinguish the blaze. This fire was one of the largest in San Jose history, and the existing potable system was more than adequate to fight it.

There are also reliability questions associated with relying on the South
Bay Water Recycling system for to meet fire flows. The recycled water system has very little storage, and no redundant pumping. The system was not designed to meet minimum fireflows and could fail to provide adequate volume and pressure for firefighting since the system was not designed using fireflow criteria.

This is a discussion that should happen among the SVP2Center board members before the white paper is amended. I oppose making these changes to the current board-approved white paper until the board has had an opportunity to meet and discuss the proposed changes.

Contact: Andrew R. Gere, P.E., Manager of Operations and Water Quality
San Jose Water Company
Ph. (408) 279-7815, Fax (408) 292-5812,