PLEASANTON -- It's not everyone's idea of great swag, but Tri-Valley homeowners are lining up for a new drought freebie -- recycled sewer water.
Toting empty milk jugs, tubs, buckets, even water tanks, residents have been lining up to fill 'em up since mid-June at ¿what sewer district officials say is the only plant giving away free treated effluent to residential customers.
Dublin San Ramon Services District officials say they weren't sure there would be any takers, but about 60 eager do-it-yourselfers are now making regular runs to haul water to irrigate their yards and vegetable gardens, fill decorative fountains, wash off horses and control dust at stables.
And as for any "yuck factor" from using sewer water, users say they aren't deterred because recycled water customers are all given brief instructions informing them that the state OKs the use of effluent for landscaping -- but not for drinking.
James McCabe, a Pleasanton pharmacist, said he is not squeamish about irrigating his plants with the water.
"When I walk my dog by the creek, you're going to find a lot more bacteria in the creek than in this recycled water," McCabe said.
District employees came up with the water fill station idea during a brainstorming session on how to help Tri-Valley residents cope with some of the region's most severe water shortages. Local water suppliers have ordered customers to cut use 25 percent and limit watering lawns to twice a week."We haven't been watering our lawn, and it would be nice have it a little green," Gale Van de Roovaart said as she filled her water drums from a station hose on a recent day.
"It's not just about avoiding the city's penalties," she said. "I want to conserve water in a drought. ... Besides, the price is right: It's free."
People can haul away up to 300 gallons per trip for free with no limit on trips. Those who want bigger loads must register as a commercial water hauler and pay $10 per trip.
On one weekday last week, each of the three recycled water outlets at the station was in use.
"This just blows me away about how popular this has been," said Dan Gallagher, operations manager at the district, a drinking water and sewage agency.
"I thought maybe it would be my wife and three or four other people and that would be it," he said. "No one is happy about the drought shortages, but people are happy to have an option for a little help."
The district imposes minimal requirements. They must fill out an agreement and get brief instructions. Gallagher said his agency worked with state health and wastewater regulators to design the rules because there were none on the books.
Many other water agencies recycle sewer water -- San Jose, for instance, distributes it for industrial cooling and landscape irrigation. But no other agency in the state has a recycled water station like this for residential customers, said Blair Allen, an engineer with the Bay Area Water Resources Control Board.
"It's very innovative, and they deserve credit for it," Allen said.
The amount of recycled water being used is modest but increasing.
The new station gave away about 10,000 gallons of recycled water in its second week, a fraction of the nearly 10 million gallons a day of drinking water that the district pumps to 77,000 people in Dublin and the Dougherty Valley in San Ramon.
"It's a drop in the bucket in the big picture," Gallagher said, "but I think this project will go a long way in helping change public attitudes about using recycled water."
Just how long the recycled water station stays open is unclear. A wet winter could dry up interest in the project. Water managers say they will reassess the future of the station at the end of the year.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.