Environment & Science

Burbank Water & Power aims to practice what it preaches with 'eco-campus' (Photos)

Molly Peterson/KPCC
Molly Peterson/KPCC
Molly Peterson/KPCC
Molly Peterson/KPCC
Molly Peterson/KPCC

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The city of Burbank has unveiled what it’s calling an “eco-campus” at the headquarters for its public utility, Burbank Water and Power. The city says the old facility will now be a model of conservation and energy efficiency.

A new water capture and filtration system on Lake Street next to the Magnolia Power Plant sends water into BWP's property. General manager Ron Davis says that means the utility can do more with recycled resources.

"You have here on this site a lot of water getting used. There’s fountains. There’s grounds. There’s power plants. There’s power plants that need pure water, not just cooling water," Davis told an opening ceremony crowd Saturday. "All of it recycled water. All of it. Only the drinking fountains and the handwashing is potable water."

Drought-resistant landscaping is the centerpiece of a garden BWP workers will use. The utility installed solar panels atop its parking lot and made its buildings more energy-efficient with the help of a federal grant.

Burbank Water and Power’s general manager, Ron Davis, says the message of the eco-campus is that conservation’s not a hardship.

"What you see here is not just doing with less as people think conservation is, it’s about doing more and better with less," Davis said.

It starts with water.. One street bordering the facility is designed to capture and filter rainwater — it soaks down between the pavers, and goes into storage tanks.

Behind an employee gate, that water feeds native and drought-tolerant plants, including vines that will snake up a steel transformer now taken out of service.

Calvin Abe’s landscape architecture firm designed the system.

"The landscape of southern California. The urban landscape that is harsh, inhumane sometimes, can be re-contextualized; repurposed," Abe said in a presentation.

The eco-campus also has new solar panels. Keith Coneko, of the Leo A. Daly firm, says they’ll remind you of Burbank’s aviation history.

"Burbank being the kind of aircraft capital of southern California, with the panels and everything, it’s kind of forming images of wings and stuff," Coneko said.

Burbank built its eco-campus without raising rates, or issuing bonds. Jeff Kightlinger of the Metropolitan Water District commended its customer BWP for dedicating 2 percent of its revenue for water efficiency.

"So that’s pretty impressive, and it’s something a lot of utilities haven’t done," Kightlinger said, "particularly in these hard times, but Burbank has always known that if you save water you do save money, and it goes back to the residents eventually."

A million-dollar federal Energy Department grant helped pay for the upgrades. BWP's Ron Davis said that the utility has also been setting aside some money for several years.

"Like a hotel or a bus, we’re not full all the time," Davis said. "It’s not always August. And yet our assets are designed to serve the community reliably on the hottest day of the year. So we take those assets and we fairly aggressively marketed them, used them to rent to others, fill the bus up."

Like other municipal utilities, Burbank is asking for rate hikes to pay for water quality, renewable energy and other mandates. The eco-campus could help demonstrate that they ‘re justified.

This story has been updated.