A new car wash in New Hope will rely on captured rain and reused water to scrub vehicles clean, an apparent first in Minnesota.
Owner Chris Robbins said he hopes his business taking shape, at 7201 Bass Lake Road, will set a trend for local car washes, often among the top water users in communities.
A busy car wash, he said, can guzzle more than 4 million gallons of water a year. The reuse systems at his car wash, he said, are expected to save millions of gallons annually.
“We feel it’s a lot more eco-friendly way to go about running a car wash business,” said Robbins, whose family owns two other gas stations and car washes in Plymouth.
The New Hope car wash, slated to open in May, will sit next to a new gas station and convenience store. Robbins said rainwater from across the property will be captured, filtered and diverted to a system of underground tanks that can hold 100,000 gallons of water. Separate tanks will store water recycled from the car wash tunnel.
The goal, Robbins said, is to avoid tapping into city water for most months of the year. Doing so in winter, he conceded, may be necessary.
The project reflects a surging interest in water reuse — from Target Field and CHS Field to the Minnesota National Guard facility in Arden Hills — as stress on the state’s water supplies grows.
Outdoor reuses of stormwater and rainwater, including projects like the one in New Hope, are becoming the most widespread type of water reuse in Minnesota, according to a 2018 state report.
“Overall there’s an awareness that our water resources are limited,” said Laura Babcock, director of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), an outreach program at the University of Minnesota that works with businesses to cut waste and use resources efficiently.
MnTAP recently partnered with Washington County to take a closer look at water conservation and the county’s car wash industry. Student researcher Kyra Newburg found that water reclaiming systems, which reuse water from the car wash, slash water use by 50 to 90 percent.
Such systems cost about $50,000 to install but can yield savings on sewer and water supply fees, according to Newburg.
That’s the goal in New Hope, despite higher costs up front, Robbins said. “It’s kind of a win-win situation.”
The car wash and gas station concept hasn’t come without pushback, attracting some criticism from nearby homes and businesses.
Neighbors and others have raised concerns over noise, crime, lights, traffic and the number of zoning variances that the plan required, with some objecting that the city appeared to give the project special treatment. The City Council voted 4-1 to approve the plan in November 2017.
Robbins said he revised his proposal with resident feedback in mind, making a privacy fence taller and working to reduce light pollution.
New Hope officials said the eco-friendly focus of the car wash proposal was a key selling point.
“Stormwater management from a city perspective is a very big deal,” said Aaron Chirpich, community development specialist.
The city, Chirpich said, is used to builders and developers targeting the “bare minimum standards” for stormwater management, as opposed to Robbins’ plan to capture all the runoff on a site.
While some other car washes already reuse their own water, Robbins said coupling a reclaiming system with the rainwater component sets his concept apart.
“It’s something I felt was the right thing to do,” he said. “Why not push things forward for the car wash industry?”