Oct. 18 2010 12:00 AM

In the medieval Europe, blue and purple dyes were rare and expensive, so only the most wealthy or the aristocracy could afford to wear them. And though wearing purple today doesn't indicate wealth, to irrigation contractors it can still mean gold. Especially if they live in areas where the population has access to non-potable water.

Water recycling plants, also known as reclamation facilities, are becoming an increasingly popular addition to city water treatment centers. These facilities transform wastewater into reclaimed water which can be used to irrigate landscapes, golf courses, parks and gardens without putting a drain on an already depleting water supply.

The only way to transport the reclaimed water to these sites is through a pipeline. However, to ensure that this non-potable water does not mix with potable water, a separate line of pipe is laid down, and to be able to tell which one is which, purple pipe has become the standard for non-potable water. The pipe should also be clearly marked with the words: RECYCLED/RECLAIMED WATER—DO NOT DRINK in black lettering.

Why purple?

Larry Workman, PVC Pipe and Fittings consultant, Trabuco Canyon, California, explains that the color was probably selected as the industry standard due to the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), which many state and local governments use as a model when they write their own plumbing codes.

Irrigation “Various professionals pipe colors who wish to use are used for recycled water a number of must first be purposes. certified.

For instance, This truck is electric equipped with a power lines pump and a go through hose reel and red, gas lines can carry up to are yellow, 1,000 gallons of reclaimed bulk then there’s water to other colors customers’ that were homes. already in use when the idea of reclaimed water was introduced. Purple seemed to be the logical choice, although there’s not one particular industry standard shade of purple,” says Workman. “IAPMO is a fairly large organization, so when they published their UPC and designated purple as the color for reclaimed water, everyone followed.”

Steve Clark, president of Aquatherm, Orem, Utah, says that he’s been receiving orders for the lilac pipes from landscape and irrigation contractors in states like Texas, Colorado, Nevada and others where ‘green’ housing developments are on the rise. Many of these complexes are specifically stating in their sales material that ‘reclaimed water is used for landscaping’ to entice eco-friendly tenants. The color of the irrigation pipes that carry the water for all of these new developments is purple.

In some areas of the country, using non-potable water isn’t a choice, it’s the law. In Florida, the St. Johns River Water Management District Landscape Water Conservation Ordinance mandates that irrigation systems must be connected to available non-potable water supplies. In addition, distribution lines for non-potable water must be included in a developer’s plans for their construction site. The Florida law also states that

“Piping and outlets conveying non-potable water be adequately and durably identified by a distinctive color—purple/lavender.”

While some city’s water reclamation plants only allow reclaimed water to be used by city parks, ponds and other public facilities, other towns have found a way to bring reclaimed water to their residents for personal irrigation use.

The Town of Cary, North Carolina, is one such city. During the summer months, their 145,000 residents were using more than 10 million gallons of drinking water per day just for irrigation. Water resources were becoming increasingly scarce, and town officials knew that something needed to be done. A reclaimed water feasibility

study was undertaken in 1997, and just four years later, the Town of Cary became the first city in the state of North Carolina to pump treated waste water to homes and businesses for irrigation and cooling purposes.

“Since the reclamation facility went online, we’ve heard from a number of very appreciative residents who have seen a substantial reduction in their water bills,” said Rick Jordan, reclaimed water coordinator at the Town of Cary Public Works & Utilities Department. “They also like the fact that they don’t have to adhere to the strict watering schedule that potable water customers have to follow.”

As this trend continues, there will be a continuous flood of opportunity for landscape and irrigation contractors to hook-up residential communities to non-potable water sources with purple pipe. But there are other ways for landscape professionals to increase their cash flow using reclaimed water, even if the pipes can’t reach the landscape.

If landscape clients wish to irrigate with reclaimed water and they live too far from the facility, the Town of Cary Public Works & Utilities Department offers a way for the contractor to transport reclaimed bulk water to their clients at no charge.

“Irrigation professionals who wish to use the bulk water can do so, but they have to go through training to get certified before they can pick up and distribute the reclaimed water,” Jordon said. “They also have to haul away at least 250 gallons in their own water tanks on the back of their trucks and take it to jobs.”

Since the program began, the city has trained and certified nearly 800 bulk water users, mostly irrigation and landscape contractors who use the water to irrigate their client’s turf, plants and shrubs, according to Jordon.

Jerrett Hathcock of Bland Landscaping in Apex, North Carolina, is one of them. He became a certified bulk water user as soon as the Cary reclamation center began offering the program. “We fill up our tanks at the center and transport the water to our clients no matter what the weather conditions are,” Hathcock said. “One of the most important things about using reclaimed water is that during an extreme drought, where there is a strict watering schedule or a total ban on all irrigation, using potable water we can still service all our clients.” The  company’s trucks are equipped with a pump and a hose reel and can carry up to 1,000 gallons of bulk reclaimed water.

Then they drive to their client’s property and hand-irrigate their plants and turf.

Once the reclaimed water became available, the company started educating their clients on the advantages of using nonpotable water, and the service soon became part of their irrigation contracts. Switching his clients over from potable to non-potable water for their irrigation needs wasn’t a hard sell, says Hathcock. “With all the new information on drought conditions, water shortages and water conservation, people are becoming a lot more knowledgeable about the advantages of using reclaimed water. Also, we educate our clients on new installations and let them know we use reclaimed water on supplemental watering and annual beds.”

“If you look toward the future, water conservation and environmental concerns are going to inspire people to seek alternative sources for irrigation; reclaimed water is definitely one of them.”

The company’s irrigation department also installs purple pipe for their commercial and residential clients to hook them up to the city’s reclaimed water system. The non-potable water flows from the recycling facility, through a main line to a service line, then, the Town of Cary Utilities Department installs a reclaimed water meter. Then irrigation contractors come in and install the purple pipes that run from the meter to the irrigation system on the property. As more and more municipalities add reclamation plants to their water treatment facilities, the need to connect the reclaimed water to properties is going to increase.

“If you look toward the future, water conservation and environmental concerns are going to inspire people to seek alternative sources for irrigation; reclaimed water is definitely one of them. The need for purple pipes and irrigation contractors to install them is going to increase, too,” Hathcock said.

The color purple isn’t just limited to non-potable water transportation pipes. “Even though reclaimed water has been treated, disinfected and is safe for incidental human contact, it’s not safe for human or animal consumption,” Workman said. “Purple-colored accessories will also prevent people from hooking up hoses and accidently drinking water they shouldn’t.”

To prevent such a scenario, major irrigation component manufacturers have expanded their line to include specifically designed products that identify them with some form of purple design as being supplied by a non-potable water source. These items include purple spray heads, rotor covers, shrub adapters, water valves and valve box lids, among others.

Jeff Hayes, product manager with Rain Bird, says contractors can go to the city utility and find out what neighborhoods are connected to non-potable water, and promote installing purple components to the municipalities as well as residential and commercial sites. “This is a good opportunity for contractors to add purple product installation to their service, especially in cities like Cary.”

Hathcock agrees. “When a developer is contracted for a new build installation or an upgrade, you have to install purple pipe, and every component in the irrigation system also has to be purple, including valves and valve box covers,” he said.

To be certain the residents are fully informed, the town also installs signs all along thoroughfares, streets and park facilities, to let people know that the area is being irrigated with reclaimed water and that it’s not safe to drink. Of course, it might be easier if the water itself was also purple, but for now there isn’t any real “purple” water. It’s just a term that is used to distinguish reclaimed water.

In the meantime, whether you’re installing a reclaimed water irrigation system before new construction is complete, or as a retrofit when a new non-potable supply source becomes available, you can see that purple is definitely a golden opportunity.