There’s something different about the fountains on North Campus. Even the toilets and faucets on campus aren’t the same as they were three years ago.
That’s because after facing the worst drought in a century, the university took drastic action, including retrofitting or replacing campus toilets to use less water and using air conditioning condensate water in outdoor fountains. In total, UGA reduced water usage by 30 percent. And though the three-year drought ended 18 months ago, UGA is still using 30 percent less water, or 150 million gallons a year, than before the drought.
For its water conservation efforts, the university was selected as the grand finalist in the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers’ regional best practices awards. UGA was awarded $1,500 and a plaque at a ceremony in Nashville at the end of spring semester. The prize money was used to purchase handheld steam trap assessment equipment that helps find broken steam traps that aren’t returning water to be reused.
UGA’s water conservation also was a significant factor in being named as one of the nation’s top 18 most environmentally friendly schools in Princeton Review’s 2011 Green Rating Honor Roll.
In total, UGA is currently using the same amount of water as the university did in 1985, when the campus was half its current size (or had 7 million fewer square feet), according to Ken Crowe, director of energy services in the Physical Plant.
But even with the retrofits and rainwater capturing, Crowe said that buy-in and concern from the campus community has made the biggest difference.
“We changed behaviors, not just systems,” he said.
When the drought worsened in 2007, UGA launched the Every Drop Counts campaign that promoted awareness and encouraged behaviors like not letting the water run down the sink when lathering hands.
Crowe called the campaign a grassroots effort and said that its success came from “every person doing their part.”
The residence halls got involved and had conservation contests between the residents. The Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel stopped washing hotel linens daily, unless requested. Even the Athletic Association pitched in by creating public service announcements and promoting conservation at sporting events.
The campus community posted water-saving suggestions and comments to a Web page. Those suggestions led to the deactivation of 150 overly sensitive automatically flushing toilets. Another part of the Every Drop Counts water conservation campaign was reporting and getting leaks repaired quickly.
When the usage figures came back, UGA saved $250,000 during the first year.
In total, UGA’s Physical Plant has retrofitted more than 1,500 campus toilets, 500 urinals and 2,000 faucet aerators to use less water. These retrofits save about 30 million gallons of water annually.
Campus fountains were shut down during the drought to conserve water, but now run on roof runoff water and air-conditioning condensate captured from neighboring buildings. Signs on the fountains let campus guests know that the fountains are not running on city water but repurposed water.
The university also installed approximately 15 cisterns to capture and re-use rain water and condensate for use in irrigation and cooling towers. UGA also has developed a master plan to minimize irrigation by planting drought resistant plants and prioritizing irrigation areas on campus so irrigation is only used for the most pressing needs.
Initially, Crowe said he had hoped for a 10 percent reduction in water use.
“Thirty percent exceeded my wildest expectations,” he said.
That reduction came partly from equipment retrofits and replacements, but a bulk of it came from modifying water-using equipment in research labs.
Almost one-third of water used at UGA was from research buildings. So Physical Plant asked for a list of all the water-using equipment in research labs. They got back a 10-page list that they’re still working down. Once the equipment was accounted for, sterilizers, water aspirators, growth chambers and cooling units either were replaced or modified to use less water.
“We are continuing to address water use concerns expressed by researchers on a building-by-building basis,” said Crowe. “Currently we are working in the chemistry building to eliminate the use of water for cooling research equipment.”