Capitol Alert

Keeping Capitol Park green with reclaimed water won’t come cheap

Drought-stressed Capitol Park will get $1.7 million for a reclaimed water project in the new state budget, even though the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal analyst concluded that the project won’t pencil out for more than a century and a half.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, citing an estimated $10,000 in annual savings and an “unusually long repayment period” of 166 years, recommended denial of the project in a February report. Other water-efficiency efforts at state buildings and other efforts, such as grass-removal programs, have payback period of about 30 years, it said.

Yet the Legislature’s budget-writing committee signed off on the Capitol Park spending late Thursday. Lease revenue bonds would pay for the project, which will treat, store and transport 5.6 million gallons of water to the park that have been used to heat and cool several state buildings downtown.

Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Department of General Services, said the project is about more than how long it takes to break even. With the reclaimed water, Ferguson said, the state could keep the park’s lawns green, ensure its historic trees get plenty of water, and run the park’s water features, including the large fountain at the park’s western end that has been dry in recent years.

“Certainly they are looking at different reasons than we are. The water’s really cheap until you don’t have any,” he said of the LAO. “We have all this recycled water. But it’s all going down the drain right now.”

The state reduced watering in the park last summer, amid a years-long drought, leaving some lawns brown and posing unknown stresses to some of the historic vegetation in the park, such as the grove of trees to honor Civil War sacrifices.

The re-plumbed park also could be a place to put treated non-potable water harvested from a renovated or new Capitol annex. The budget includes money for the annex project, although officials have yet to decide whether to overhaul the existing building or make a new one.

“This is going to take years and years to pay back but we think we’ll be getting benefit during all of that time,” Ferguson said.

Besides planning for reclaimed water, the state has been transforming the park’s landscape to reduce water use. Workers have removed turf and replaced some plants with water-sipping California natives.