New Report Explores Benefits and Challenges of Onsite Water Systems

January 28, 2021, Oakland, California — A new report from the Pacific Institute examines the opportunity for onsite water systems in California’s Silicon Valley to improve water resilience. The Role of Onsite Water Systems in Advancing Water Resilience in Silicon Valley finds that onsite and centralized systems can work effectively together when onsite systems are deliberately sited and integrated into the broader water network.

Silicon Valley faces a host of water challenges. The region’s water and wastewater infrastructure are aging, and in some cases are nearing the end of useful life. Continued growth and development are putting additional strains on the region, and climate change is adding to that burden through sea level rise, more intense storms, and more severe droughts. These challenges present risks, but also an opportunity to rethink the design, configuration, and operation of water and wastewater systems. Onsite water systems can support local water resilience by treating and reusing water from sinks, showers, laundry, toilets, and cooling towers for toilet flushing and outdoor irrigation.

“We are seeing leading tech companies starting to make investments in onsite water systems at their campuses, and these systems have the potential to help address some of Silicon Valley’s water challenges,” says report author Cora Kammeyer. “But that will not happen without coordinated planning and collaboration between the companies and public water managers and local regulators. This report explores the potential benefits – and potential downsides – of onsite water systems in Silicon Valley, drawing on technical analyses and research as well as conversations with stakeholders.”

The report contains three sections investigating the benefits and challenges of onsite water systems in the region. First, it provides a synthesis of the perspectives of Silicon Valley stakeholders — including water managers, regulators, technology companies, engineers, and academics — on onsite water systems. Second, it explores potential outcomes and impacts — positive and negative — from onsite water systems. Third, a set of geospatial analyses in Silicon Valley assess opportunities for onsite water systems to integrate with regional planning and contribute to regional water management strategies. These assessments incorporate key factors such as priority development areas, the reach of existing recycled water networks, expected sea level rise impacts, and more.

Learn more and download the report here.