Water Wisdom

These spas are saving the planet and their pocketbooks at the same time.

Roger McLassus

Considering the hundreds of gallons of water needed for showers, baths, laundered linens and maintenance of gardens, the spa industry is prone to over-using this precious commodity. But many green-minded spa professionals across the country have begun to employ sophisticated water recycling systems that help to cut down their H2O requirements. DAYSPA checked in with three spas that are leading the charge in water recycling efforts to bring you tips and strategies on how to make similar changes in your own facility.

Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary
Freestone, CA

Long renowned as a green spa pioneer, Osmosis ramped up its eco-efforts in 2009 by constructing backyard wetlands—a three-foot-deep pond filled with gravel and plants—to trap, cleanse and make gray water and rainwater suitable for use in the spa. The facility’s plumbing also separates black water (that which comes from toilets and cannot be reused) from gray water—the relatively clean waste from baths, sinks, washing machines and other appliances.

“We’re in a very water-short area, so a recycling system was a necessity from the beginning; we didn’t have a choice,” says Osmosis founder Michael Stusser. “We looked at different solutions, but soon realized that a biological filtration system made the most sense.”

The result was an all-natural organic water treatment “facility” that’s also become a sort of preserve for local native birds, reptiles, water lilies and more. How does it work? Gray water from the spa flows in at one side, and the wetlands’ plants consume the nutrients and contaminants. By the time the flowing water reaches the other end, “it’s pristine,” says Stusser.

The wetlands system now recovers 600 to 700 gallons per day, and Osmosis’ water expenditure is down to less than 1,000 gallons a day—which is quite a feat for a spa that routinely provides 400 to 500 services per week.

The project was not without its challenges. A great deal of engineering and design work had to be done, and Stusser also had to contend with the county’s strict requirements for non-agriculture businesses that seek to implement such systems, not to mention the $30,000 cost of installation. But Stusser says it was worth it.

The wetlands system now recovers 600 to 700 gallons per day, and Osmosis’ water expenditure is down to less than 1,000 gallons a day—which is quite a feat for a spa that routinely provides 400 to 500 services per week. And although the recycled water is “clean enough to be used for anything,” as Stusser notes, people aren’t quite ready for it in their baths and treatments. For now, the recycled water is only used to irrigate the spa grounds and gardens. Stusser hopes that using it in spa showers will be the next step.

Absolute Nirvana Spa & Gardens
Santa Fe, NM

A location in the high mountain desert is bound to make a spa owner more conscious about water consumption.

“Since we’re in a perpetual state of drought, I felt it imperative to recycle our water,” says Absolute Nirvana’s Carolyn Lee, who installed a water catchment and UV-light system that cleanses bath water. Now, instead of going down the drain, water is reused. “I personally would have felt way too guilty just dumping it out after each client uses a tub!”

The system saves Absolute Nirvana up to 4,000 gallons of water each week.

The spa’s two singles tubs each hold about 75 gallons, and the couples’ takes 180 to fill, so the system saves Absolute Nirvana up to 4,000 gallons of water each week. The UV light, along with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide, eradicates 99.9% of all impurities and bacterial strains in the water.

Designed by Nature’s Creations, the system holds water in a giant, heated tank, through which it’s constantly flowing, and the tank is completely drained and refilled twice a year for routine cleaning and repairs. An alarm alerts Lee if there’s trouble with the UV lighting, the water’s pH levels are tested daily and a specialist from Nature’s Creations is always on call, in case there’s a problem. As an added benefit, all that circulating hot water keeps the spa warm in the winter, significantly lowering Nirvana’s heating bills.

“Instituting it wasn’t difficult, just expensive!” Lee says. The system cost about $20,000 to install, and requires about $350 in monthly maintenance. “But it has been well worth the time and expense. Just knowing that we’re doing our part to help the planet is important to me, and I think many people may choose our spa because of our green practices.”

El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa
Taos, NM

El Monte Sagrado’s Living Machine System is a 2,100-square-foot, ecologically engineered environment composed of plants and microorganisms that have helped turn the spa into a recycling powerhouse. Once cleaned, the recycled water (collected from not only the spa but the entire resort) is used in landscaping, fountains and miniature waterfalls.

“Clients comment about the beautiful waterfalls all the time, and the spa staff uses those opportunities to inform them about the water recycling processes we have in place,” says spa manager Monica Munoz. “Their eyes light up—they absolutely love learning that the facility doesn’t use fresh water for the lawn or any special features.”

The system’s main components include five underground reactors, where water waste is broken down, and two wetland cells, where remaining biomass is filtered and decomposed. After treatment, any remaining organisms are subjected to UV disinfection, and the clean water is then pumped into the Biolarium Pond in a beautiful, aboveground lounging area that’s surrounded by Living System–irrigated flowers and trees. Total installation costs were about $200,000.

“Clients comment about the beautiful waterfalls all the time, and the spa staff uses those opportunities to inform them about the water recycling processes we have in place.”

Munoz recommends that spa professionals interested in water recycling work with their town and county officials to come up with conservation strategies and programs. “There are so many ways spa owners can conserve, from capturing and reusing rainwater, to offering services that require less water,” she says. “Once the entire staff is aware, it’s a great talking point to share with guests."

Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, Mississippi.