History: Recycled Water’s Roots in Irvine

Water has always been a precious resource in Irvine. As far back as 1906, James Irvine II worked tirelessly to create a sustainable water source for crops on his Irvine Ranch and considered every rare rainstorm as “dollars falling from the sky.” He dug hundreds of wells, laid miles of irrigation pipe and built a series of reservoirs, including Rattlesnake Reservoir and Irvine Lake, with the aim of preserving and efficiently using water.

This tradition of conservation carried into the 1960s, when the Irvine Ranch Water District and Irvine Company pioneered the use of recycled water in Orange County, building the Michelson Water Recycling Plant that delivers 2 million gallons of recycled water daily.

Recycled water now irrigates about 85% of all public and commercial landscaping in the city.

Michelson Water Recycling Plant, 1970s

“If Irvine looks greener and lusher than other communities, it’s because of our recycled water program,” says IRWD General Manager Paul Cook. “Irvine is able to maintain its tree-lined streets, green medians and lush common areas because every gallon of recycled water used there saves a gallon of drinking water.”

From the start, IRWD chose specially colored pipes to distinguish recycled water from drinking water. The only challenge was that the lead engineer was colorblind. He was able to pick out a purple color, however, and said that “if he could see the difference, others could too.”

This shade of purple piping is now the national standard for recycled water. In fact, it’s known as “Irvine Purple.” So the next time you’re at a park or out on a hike and see one of these recycled water pipes, remember that it’s these purple pipes that keep Irvine so green.

Learn more by reading our latest Stewardship & Sustainability Report.