In Santa Clara County, where the median age is 37, and the Silicon Valley start-up ethos is infused extensively, it sometimes feels as though a gulf exists between generations. Yet insights from every member of the community are valued. Oftentimes, it takes some extra effort to reach out to senior citizens and older adults in educational initiatives.

With that in mind, the Santa Clara Valley Water District hosted more than 250 seniors and older adults on Sept. 7 for tours of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in North San José. Designed to educate and build public support for district efforts to expand the use of recycled water, invitations for Senior Water Day were circulated to senior centers, encouraging people to “…come see, touch, and learn why purified water is the wave of the future.” Visitors arrived via buses in record numbers from as far away as Morgan Hill.

Visitors were treated to refreshments and welcomed by district Board Chair Richard Santos who represents District 3, and Director Tony Estremera, who represents District 6. Their walking tour of the water purification center, hosted by facility engineers, included an in-depth discussion of how treated wastewater is piped through microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light disinfection processes, and used for non-potable irrigation at nearby Levi’s Stadium and golf courses, among other uses.

Enthusiasm ran high and reviews were favorable. Attendees were thoroughly engaged and admitted that their perceptions had changed because of their new education. They praised their knowledgeable tour guides and extolled the potential for recycled water to offset drought conditions in the future.

In 2014 the Santa Clara Valley Water District opened the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC) to enhance recycled water for non-potable uses and as a demonstration center to test purified water for eventual potable reuse to augment drinking water supplies. The SVAWPC is the largest plant of its kind in northern California, and produces up to 8 million gallons per day of highly purified water. Mixed with other treated water sources, the water is currently used only for irrigation and industrial uses. With the ongoing challenge of meeting California’s future water needs, sustainable solutions, such as the use of recycled water, are needed to support a growing population while coping with climate change and increasingly frequent droughts.

Public outreach is a vital component of the SVAWPC. Before we begin using highly purified water to augment our drinking water supplies, it’s important that all segments of our community have an opportunity to hear about the benefits, ask questions, and see the technology for themselves. We all drink water, so our goal is to build widespread community understanding and support for our effort to expand water reuse in our county.

When an elder gives advice, it is often wise to listen. They can offer a distinct perspective. Following Senior Day, attendees can now speak to the benefits of recycled water in their own authentic voices.

The water district encourages interested seniors to volunteer in its programs to serve as tour docents or classroom or event assistants. Find out more about tours or becoming a volunteer.

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