How Rainwater is Reused at San Diego Airport

Editor's Note: I am pleased to welcome San Diego International Airport with a new post on rainwater management. If you have an exciting project that you want to share with our international airport community, write a guest post. Contact Us.

Water stewardship means using less water, wasting less water and protecting water quality. At San Diego Airport (SAN), all are vitally important. The airport is uniquely situated in a borderline arid climate (up to 80% of all the County’s water is imported from points north and east) and on the edge of San Diego Bay.

A new Parking Plaza slated to open in late Spring 2018 will do all three at the same time. Besides enhancing customer service and meeting growing demand for close-in parking, the Parking Plaza will capture rain that falls on the 7.6-acre structure (1 acre is about 4050 square meters), routing it into a below-ground storage system with a capacity of nearly 100,000 gallons (1 gallon is about 4 liters). Instead of becoming stormwater runoff, potentially impacting San Diego Bay, the collected rainwater will be used by the immediately adjacent central utility plant that houses the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.

Today, the HVAC system uses about 30,000 gallons of potable, purchased water per day to manage air temperature throughout the airport's two terminal. That is almost 11 million gallons annually, representing 12% of the airport’s total water use.

Why Collect Rainwater?

Consider what this innovative approach to rainwater capture and reuse means in terms of water stewardship as defined above.

Use Less Water 

Currently, San Diego Airport purchases nearly 80 million gallons of potable water a year, most of which is used for non-potable uses. By re-using rainwater from the Parking Plaza, we will purchase approximately 2 million fewer gallons of potable water for non-potable use in the HVAC system annually. This reduction in potable water use will also save us roughly USD 20,000 per year.

Waste Less Water

San Diego’s climate is not completely desert-like and about 180 million gallons of rain falls on the 661-acre property each year. Like any airport, the airport is mostly impermeable surfaces of building and paved areas. Even though some rainwater evaporates and some is filtered, it still leaves about 100 million gallons of rainwater per year that requires management. Clearly, re-using that is less wasteful than managing it. Today, San Diego Airport spends almost $2.6 million annually on storm water management.

Protect Water Quality

San Diego Bay is a natural, protected, deep-water harbor that is one of the primary reasons the 8th largest city in the United States exists in its current location. Discovered by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 by sailing into the Bay, San Diego grew up around its bayfront. Downtown San Diego extends right to the water’s edge, and runoff into the Bay is a major concern. Consequently, San Diego Airport is required to comply with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Municipal Permit and Industrial Permit. A comprehensive Storm Water Management Plan embodies our commitment to preventing, reducing and eliminating discharge of polluted storm water. To the extent it is captured and re-used, that is no longer an issue.

The Parking Plaza also embodies sustainability in other ways. New parking guidance technology will bring environmental benefits by reducing the need for vehicles to hunt for available parking spaces, reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions.

San Diego Airport is also pursuing “Parksmart” certification and, if successful, will be the first facility in the San Diego region to successfully meet the high-performance, sustainable parking garage requirements.

Finally, the Parking Plaza will include 16 electric vehicle charging ports for passengers’ use as well as another 145 “EV-Ready” (Electrical Vehicle) parking stalls that will allow us to quickly add additional chargers as customer demand for them grows in the future.

San Diego Airport's commitment to environmental sustainability has been deeply infused “into its DNA” since its owner-operator, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, adopted one of the first Sustainability Policies for domestic airports in 2008. This commitment to sustainability has deepened considerably over the years, and gone beyond just environmental sustainability. In 2011, we published the first domestic airport Sustainability Report based on Global Reporting Initiative Standards. And in 2013, we opened the first-ever LEED-platinum certified commercial airport terminal. Our unwavering commitment is that every new structure built will be at least LEED-Silver certified or equivalent.

Constantly exploring new ideas, like capturing and re-using rainwater, is how we operationalize our overall commitment. We hope this serves as a model for other airports worldwide.

If you have comments, please leave them here below.

28 Oct 2017 Update San Diego Airport Wins Environment Award Excellence Award (PR) highlighting the parking plaza project

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