The Education Center Building at Joppa Flats

Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center green classroom

In 2010, Joppa Flats built a green classroom on the second floor for children and family programming and installed an innovative a new rainwater catchment system that collects water from the roof for flushing toilets.

A Green Classroom

The Bill and Marsha Gette Lookout, designed to meet the specific needs of children and young families, was made possible through a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and generous support from many donors. Green features of the classroom include recycled flooring, counters, tiles and other materials, manufactured beams, motion-detecting lights, and natural lighting. “This beautiful classroom will make it possible for us to reach new audiences and increase the number of students we can accommodate and programs offered by at least 25 percent,” said Education Coordinator Lisa Hutchings.

The Water Catchment System

“One of the biggest problems we are going to face in the near future is enough fresh water,” said Bill Gette, former Sanctuary Director at Joppa Flats. “Conserving water is a must.” At Joppa Flats, just steps from the Merrimack River estuary, a high water table meant that the building has no basements and water-saving composting toilets were not a viable option.

In 2005, Joppa Flats installed a water catchment system, three backyard tanks, which collects rainwater for gardening and washing vehicles. Since toilets represent the highest water usage on the property, Gette investigated using rainwater for toilet flushing. “Water that we collect is water that does not have to be removed from the aquifers, treated with chemicals, and piped to our education center, just to flush toilets. Every time we use rainwater, we are off the grid.”

The new system includes a 1000-gallon underground tank for water collected from the roof. This water is then pumped into the building through separate plumbing and used for toilet flushing. When there is not enough rain to maintain the tank, city water provides a backup. This system is designed to reduce Joppa’s consumption of city water by as much as 70%. This system is the first of its kind in Newburyport and provides a model of how to minimize the waste of potable water.

Toilet system diagram for Joppa Flats

Interpretive materials at the Joppa Flats nature center explain how the system works.