Campus News

‘Starting point’

Task force issues water recommendations

There are dozens of ways the university can cut water consumption to help cope with one of Georgia’s worst droughts in modern times, according to a report from a special water conservation task force. Recommendations range from simple steps—employees bringing their own water to work and people taking their own towels to the Ramsey Center—to major infrastructure changes such as campus-wide installation of low-flow toilets and systems to capture air conditioning condensate.

Although UGA lowered water use by 9.6 percent between July and October through aggressive conservation and an effective educational campaign, further reductions will be necessary to meet heightened state and local conservation mandates, said the report from the Ad-Hoc Task Force on Water Resources.

UGA created the task force in early October to advise the senior administration on possible ways to immediately reduce water use with minimal impact on teaching and research, and to suggest ­strategies for long-term conservation and for potentially increasing water supplies.

The 12-member group, composed of faculty, staff and a student representative, was chaired by Lonnie Brown, associate professor of law and administrative fellow in the provost’s office, and Kathy Pharr, assistant vice president for finance and administration.

In a report issued last week, the task force said the university has made “very significant strides” in lowering water consumption, saving about 23 million gallons since July, most of it before a Sept. 17 total ban on outdoor watering.

But, with an annual consumption of 564 million gallons, UGA is the largest water user in Clarke County and must do much more, both to help relieve the drought crisis locally and to “demonstrate to the citizens of this state through teaching, research and service how water conservation can be improved statewide,” the task force said.

The university must potentially comply with two major water reduction mandates, the task force said. One is an order issued by Gov. Sonny Perdue in October that state-owned facilities cut water use by 10-15 percent. The other is a proposed Athens-Clarke County requirement (Step F) for 5 percent reductions for research, instructional and housing uses and 16 percent for athletic uses.        “In light of the legal restrictions that have been placed on UGA by the state and those that might be forthcoming at the local level, there is plainly a palpable need for the implementation of serious water-saving measures throughout the campus community,” the task force said.

An overall monthly reduction goal for the university can’t be precisely pinpointed because of  variables such as water use for athletic purposes, but “it is safe to conclude that the university will be called upon to meet the targets that will produce the greatest water savings,” the report said.  

The task force offers 50 recommendations that include measures for both short and long-term conservation, steps to reduce water used for research purposes—at 31 percent, the largest water use at UGA—ideas for installation of water-saving devices, suggestions for finding new sources of water and a list of “worst-case possibilities” that includes consideration of a shortened work week in the summer.
Among the task force recommendations:
• Retrofit all campus facilities with low-flow toilets, consider adding  dual flush valves (which use less water per flush) and eliminate all automatic-flushing toilets and urinals.

• Partner with a supplier or distributor to purchase water-saving devices such as low-flow shower heads and faucet aerators and give employees and students coupons to buy these items.

• Investigate installing hand sanitizer dispensers as an alternative to water use in restrooms.

• Require that cooling equipment in research facilities be tied into closed-loop cooling systems where practical, and incorporate other water-saving devices such as diaphragm pumps instead of water aspirators where practical.

• Complete the conversion of  43 once-through water source cooling units in the biological sciences and Miller Plant Sciences buildings, which would save an estimated 3,000 gallons of water a day.

• Install water conservation kits on water sterilizers in research facilities. Such kits cut water use from 120 gallons to 30 gallons in a 20-minute cycle.

• Mandate that all new construction pro­jects include water conservation measures such as vegetated/green roofs and cisterns to capture stormwater and condensate.

• Install a campus-wide sub-metering system to monitor water consumption building by building, and install make-up water meters on all cooling towers to isolate water usage by each unit.

• Create a process to refurbish existing wells and locate new wells as possible water sources.

• Install retention and landscape irrigation facilities to capture and reuse stormwater and reconfigure existing drainage structures to spread storm flows into vegetated swales and rain gardens.

• Encourage employees to bring water to their offices; require students, faculty and staff to take their own towels to the Ramsey Center (to reduce laundering) and get ­students in residence halls and fraternity and sorority houses to hold water conservation competitions.

Under “worst-case possibilities,” the task force suggests closing outdoor swimming pools, using paper products in all food service operations, eliminating ice with beverages in dining facilities and investigating the possibility of a four-day work week in the summer. The task force also suggests the university consider shortening fall and spring semesters by one week, and perhaps also changing summer instructional periods. Such changes would reduce the number of people using water on campus during hotter parts of the year.

The task force recommends the creation of an Office of Sustainability to coordinate and promote water conservation, energy efficiency, recycling and other sustainability initiatives, and suggests that the office be augmented by a Committee on Sustainability and Conservation that would monitor and assess sustainability efforts and report annually to the university community.
The report notes that many of the recommendations stem from suggestions and ideas submitted by university employees and students over the past five weeks and “reflect not only the consensus of the task force, but also the collective perspectives of a broad cross-section of the university community.” The task force stresses that its report is only a “starting point” for conservation efforts and the recommendations can’t be “fair weather measures” to be forgotten when the drought ends.

 “The university needs to set a standard for sustained conservation that will enable the campus to be better prepared when extreme drought conditions recur,” the report said. “Wiser stewardship of this critical natural resource may even reduce the likelihood of finding ourselves in this situation again.”