It is still a nascent movement but the fact that KB Home, one of the nation’s largest builders, is venturing into water-recycling systems in their homes signals a shift in construction in direct response to the drought. Already, three-fourths of their homes in California have solar panels, gearing up to meet California’s mandate that all residential buildings must be Zero Net Energy (ZNE) by 2020 – meaning that they produce as much energy on-site as they consume on an annual basis.
“They’re the first or maybe the second large public builder that has actually done what I’m doing: Require every home to recycle water,” said Curt Johansen, managing general partner of Sustainable Community Partners, LLC and Terra Verde Venturesin San Francisco and president of the Council of Infill Builders. “Because there’s such a heightened level of awareness, there are more projects that are more proactive than ever before.”
Johansen himself is building an eco-friendly development in an unlikely place: California’s mostly-agricultural Central Valley.
Kings River Village will go up on 40 acres on the edge of the small town of Reedley, 30 miles southeast of Fresno, on farmland that had gone fallow. Groundbreaking is slated for 2016 and full occupancy by 2021.
“It’s probably the densest project of its kind in the San Joaquin Valley,” Johansen said. There will be 20 units per acre compared to the norm of three per acre.
Once built, it will actually utilize less water than when the land was used for farming.
Kings River Village will include senior housing, apartments, townhomes and single-family homes, retail and office space, a park and community gardens. It will be connected to a transit center. Every unit will have a maximum one-car garage.
“In the whole community, you don’t need to use your car,” Johansen said. “It’s one the riskier things I’m doing. I want people to think about going down to one car … I want people to care about their (carbon) footprint.”
In an area that relies on groundwater, Johansen believes that water conservation is not enough.
“The demand is increasing and outstripping the supply,” he said. “The technology that we have that makes sense today is to take water that we have used and to clean it up.”
The recycling system costs about $6,000 per home.
Just as in the Sea Cliff development, underground tanks are buried in the yard. One tank captures the soapy water. The other filters it and recycles it through purple pipes. Each tank stores 200 gallons a day, something that will cut water usage in half.
But Kings River Valley homes will range from $175,000 to $240,000. The success of both high-end Sea Cliff and more moderately-priced Kings River could spur similar developments statewide.
“The state has told us we have to plan for growth,” said Nicole Zieba, city manager for the town of Reedley, population 25,000. “We have got to start looking at development differently. Little cities like Reedley sometimes don’t push for the most innovative solutions. Kings River is helping us prove that small cities like us can do it right.”
Reedley already has the lowest per capital water use in the Central Valley, she said. All city facilities are now powered by solar energy.
The city has set strict ecological guidelines on the Kings River project. There will be no sod in landscaping.
“This city always had visionary leaders who have decided that conscientious environmental responsibility is something worthy to invest in,” Zieba said. “I think this has been handled very poorly in the state of California.”
She points to one development of more than 6,500 homes in nearby Madera that was approved when the state knew a drought was coming.
“I wish cities and counties would do things differently,” Zieba said. “You don’t want to kill off the economy but it’s a balancing act.”