Now Serving Sustainability
Austin restaurant serves sustainability with easy-to-copy water reclamation system
Since opening in 1975, North Austin restaurant Fonda San Miguel has been known to serve bountiful helpings of complex flavors, hacienda-style ambiance, and lush interiors evocative of a jungle escape. And now, the local Mexican eatery is adding sustainability to the menu with the help of its house-designed air-conditioning water reclamation system.
Diego Rodriguez, the restaurant’s property manager, discovered a way to collect and use condensation from the restaurant's five commercial A/C units to water the plants that create the tropical and far-away vibe both inside and outside of the space. It is not a complicated system, but the volume according to his calculations that makes this rig notable.
His solution is compliant with the City of Austin Stage 2 water restrictions, allowing for Fonda San Miguel to save approximately 250 gallons of water per day and reportedly thousands of dollars in business operating costs. Rodriguez says he no longer uses any city water at all when watering plants, and hopes other commercial businesses can emulate his system.
The condensation runoff is captured form the air conditioning system through a series of pipes that funnel directly into the two massive 250-gallon receptacles in the restaurant’s rear lot.
“The landscaping is the first impression for guests as they arrive and it sets the tone for the entire experience,” Tom Gilliland, owner and founder, tells CultureMap. “Our guests deserve a wonderful experience from the moment they walk through our doors. Another part of the reason we did this was to encourage other businesses to look into doing this as a cost-savings solution.”
Rodriguez began working on the water system in June, weeks before the city’s restrictions were put into place. He was struck with the idea when he noticed water from his air conditioner pooling in the street outside the restaurant. The city drain happened to be clogged that day, and the wastewater could not return to the water system.
Seeing the water pooling, Rodriguez realized the volume of water being diverted — it was not just a few gallons. It would surely be enough to make developing a collection process worth it.
"Diego was shocked by the amount," explained a publicist via email, "so he added a second collection tank. (Both are plastic that he bought on Craigslist for an unbelievably cheap price!!)"
Although this volume does seem unbelievable, several blogs by home inspection and air conditioner repair companies cite an upper estimate of 20 gallons of condensation per day — and that's just for one home unit. Multiply that by Fonda's five commercial units, and it starts to add up that plants have a lot to gain from air conditioning.
Fonda San Miguel is open 5-9:30 pm Monday through Thursday, 5-10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, and closed on Sunday. To learn more about the rebate offerings and guidelines for installing an alternative onsite water system for a residence or local business, go to austintexas.gov.