Irvine originated the use of purple pipes for recycled water, which keeps the city so green.

Another Irvine first

by TOM BERG

Purple pipe, universally used to carry recycled water, started right here in Irvine. But do you know why it’s purple?

Back in the 1960s, when Irvine Ranch Water District pioneered large-scale use of recycled water, the pipes were marked with tape or wire – there was no standard.

By the 1980s, the water industry realized that recycled-water pipes needed a standardized color. The task fell to IRWD.

“We were asked to put our brains to it, and, of course, IRWD had the best engineering people in the world,” says Tom Holliman, then a senior engineer for IRWD.

There were only so many colors available, Holliman recalls, noting blue was used for drinking water, red for firefighting and brown, “well, that sends the wrong message.”

Holliman collected samples of all available colors and took them to Keith Lewinger, IRWD’s assistant director of planning, to choose.

“I pointed at the purple,” Lewinger says, specifically, Pantone 240 and 241, now the industry standard.

Why? It was the only color he could see … because Lewinger is colorblind.

Today, Irvine’s purple pipes keep city parks, greenbelts and landscapes green. This sustainable, reusable supply accounts for about 27% of all water provided by IRWD.

And purple pipes, the industry standard for recycled water, are now known worldwide as Irvine purple.