How One MLB Team Is Paving the Way for Water Conservation in Sports

The San Francisco Giants has changed everything from the stadium toilets to field irrigation in an effort to cut back on water usage at Oracle Park

Have you ever thought about how much water it takes to power one major sporting event? Think about all of those toilet flushes, those beers, the grass irrigation and the concession stands. That's a ton of water. But one Major League Baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, has figured out how to cut that way back.

But it wasn’t by choice, per se.

On April 1, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown walked up to a podium near Lake Tahoe, Calif., and delivered what many Californians wished was just an April Fools joke.

"People should realize, we're in a new era,” Brown said. “We’re in an historic drought, and that demands unprecedented action.”

Brown would go on to issue the first mandatory water use reduction in the state’s history. Under the mandate, the State Water Resources Control Board cut back how much water it provided to local agencies by 25 percent. California residents were asked to change how much they shower, how often they wash their cars and to cut their water use in general.

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"The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day—that's gonna be a thing of the past,” Brown said.

The San Francisco Giants took that seriously.

“We knew this was a moment that would create change for our industry as well as the county and the state and everyone else,” said Greg Elliott, the director of operations for the San Francisco Giants.

To reduce water use, the Giants made a flurry of changes. The first was changing the toilets to low-flow models that use less water per flush.

“You go from a gallon to a liter there,” Elliott said. “You’re saving three-quarters of your water right there.”

Prior to the drought, the Giants—and pretty much every team in the nation—would pressure wash the ballpark after every single game. The Bay Area team knew it could not longer afford to do that.

“Now they pressure wash the entire park after every other game,” said Denise Lacentra, operations manager for the San Francisco Giants.

They still sweep and mop after every game, just no pressure washing.

“In just that aspect, they’ve reduced the usage of pressure washers by about 50 percent,” Lacentra said.

But that didn’t even tackle the biggest consumer of water.

“The irrigation is the most water intensive,” Elliott said.

He’s referring to what keeps the verdant field looking so TV-ready regardless of how much rain the Bay Area gets.

“When I first got there, we were watering about 13,000 gallons a day,” Elliott said.

So he went about installing sensors that use current weather conditions to calculate exactly how much water is needed every day to keep the field alive and healthy. 

The San Francisco Giants estimate they’re using about 33% to 50% less water irrigating the field, a big deal considering droughts in California and around the country are only expected to worsen as the climate change crisis steepens.

The Giants take their role as a California team seriously, and their efforts have been recognized by Major League Baseball. The team has won the league’s Green Glove Award 10 of the 11 years it’s been awarded. The award recognizes the MLB club with the highest waste diversion rate.

But the Giants aren’t the only ones trying to curb their water use.

“In Minnesota, the Twins, they actually capture all the rainwater,” said Paul Hanlon, senior director of facilities and sustainability at MLB. “They take that and use that for other things in the ballpark that have to happen to play baseball.”

And they’re hoping it influences fan behavior, too.

“When our if our fans can see that this is being done, that these different efforts are being done for 30,000 people a night, 81 games a year, you can make those behavioral changes at home,” Hanlon said.

This was just one of the interesting facts I discovered in “Connect the Dots,” our series which explores how three seemingly unrelated items are connected to each other. You can watch my journey in the video above and see all four episodes here.