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Bullitt Center’s eco-friendly water system is working, Thompson’s paper confirms

December 7, 2020

Bullitt Center

Professor Phil Thompson stands outside the Bullitt Center.

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Since its opening in 2013, the Bullitt Center has been heralded as one of the greenest buildings of its kind. Located within steps of SU’s campus, one of the center’s key components is a collection and filtration system that turns rainwater into potable water. 

Phil Thompson, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability, coauthored a paper examining the viability of the Bullitt Center’s water system, which was published this month by the Journal of the American Water Works Association

“As one of the most environmentally sustainable office buildings in the world, the Bullitt Center has demonstrated that it is possible to develop a six-story office building that meets its daily water needs with rainwater collection, storage, and treatment,” write Thompson and his collaborator, Russell Porter, a principal engineer at Gray and Osborne Inc. in Seattle.

The coauthors detail how the Bullitt Center manages to meet all applicable water quality requirements and explain that a 52,000-gallon cistern—coupled with low-flow fixtures, composting toilets and a strong conservation ethic practiced by those entering the building—ensure that enough potable water is derived from nature’s original tap to meet the needs of its 170 full-time tenants and visitors. 

While the annual operating costs associated with the system, $0.53 per gallon, are higher than Seattle’s tap water, the Bullitt Center’s water expense is half the cost of bottled water. 

Thompson’s paper can be read as a road-map for others looking to implement a similar collection and filtration system, and while start-up and operational costs are significant, he notes that “expenses could be further reduced by a ‘district’ model where the testing and operation is shared by multiple buildings in a downtown area.”

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