WATER at the Zoo

Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo. I do believe it, I do believe it’s true…

a rendering of the Toyota Elephant Passage. Credit: Denver Zoo.

So goes the Simon & Garfunkel song, and so we’ve seen at the Denver Zoo. As we marvel at the giant giraffes, elephants, zebras and monkeys, water is rarely the first thing that comes to mind, yet Denver’s small city of animals both uses and conserves tremendous amounts of water. The Denver Zoo has recently been recognized for use of reclaimed water and implemented various water conservation projects.

The zoo’s new Asian Tropics exhibit, which just opened this year, features the 10-acre Toyota Elephant Passage complex. The complex uses 1.1 million gallons of water– that’s more water for elephants than any other known exhibit and holds more water than the rest of the zoo combined.

The deepest foundation of the elephant passage includes 20 foot deep settling chambers for the 900,000 gallons of water re-circulated to the outdoor pools. The source of the water for the outdoor pools is also  sustainable, coming from Denver Water’s recycled water system–  80 percent of that water is recycled through a state-of-the-art filtration system, further reducing water demands.

The elephant passage isn’t the only place where we’re seeing recycled water use at the zoo. “Since 2003, we have committed over $ 1 million to installing a recycled water infrastructure throughout the zoo. In the future, we hope to convert more than 75% of our campus water infrastructure to recycled water,” says Jennifer Hale, Sustainability Manager with the Denver Zoological Foundation.

Water reuse like that is elephantine. In 2011, the Denver Zoo was recognized as WaterReuse “Customer of the Year,” during the 26th Annual WaterReuse Symposium to recognize the zoo’s innovative use of recycled water. Of course, smart zoo water use doesn’t end there.

Denver Zoo has implemented several water conservation projects over the last 12 years including xeriscaping, renovations to the water filtration systems for the Sea Lions and Polar Bears, construction of a water quality wetland and recirculation system at the Flamingo Pond, and other capital projects.  These projects, as well as operational changes have reduced overall annual water usage from approximately 380 million gallons in 1999 to approximately 160 million gallons in 2011, a reduction of about 60 percent.

Want to know more? Check out these interesting Denver Zoo water use metrics:

  • Total Denver Zoo water use has decreased 60% since 1999
  • Water use in restrooms has decreased 80% since the installation of low flow fixtures
  • The zoo has saved about 1 million gallons water through water-wise landscaping & irrigation controls
  • To date, approximately 30% of zoo’s water infrastructure is connected to non-potable, recycled water supply from Denver Water
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