Society & Culture

UGA responds to drought with 28 percent reduction in water use

UGA responds to drought with 28 percent reduction in water use

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia has lowered its water usage by 28 percent over the past year, and the university has saved more than $250,000 through conservation and cost-cutting measures and the enthusiastic cooperation of faculty, staff and students.

Less than 12 months after a special water conservation task force called for “serious water-saving measures” to combat a severe drought, UGA has cut water usage by 90 million gallons, according to new data from the Physical Plant Division, which is primarily responsible for water conservation efforts.

Usage is down in virtually every area of campus operations but most spectacularly in research functions where consumption has dropped by one-third, or 52 million gallons.

The task force, composed of faculty, staff, students and administrators, was created in October 2007 as Athens withered under one of the worst droughts in recent history. Six weeks later the group issued a report calling on UGA-Clarke County’s largest water user with an annual consumption of 564 million gallons-to reduce short-term use by as much as 25 percent without seriously harming teaching and research. The report also recommended developing strategies for long-range conservation and steps to increase UGA’s water supply now and in the future.

Since last November, water usage for instructional purposes is down from 72 million gallons to 57 million gallons and usage in residence halls is down from 64 million gallons to about 56 million gallons, according to the physical plant data.

Usage for irrigation purposes fell from 13 million gallons to zero as physical plant stopped almost all outdoor irrigation and researchers in greenhouses ceased automated watering, lowering greenhouse water usage by 6.7 million gallons.

But the greatest savings are in research functions, which consumed 31 percent of campus water, highest at the university. Research usage plummeted from more than 160 million gallons to about 110 million gallons.

UGA’s total 28 percent reduction far exceeds Gov. Sonny Perdue’s order last October that state-owned facilities cut water use by 10-15 percent, and also surpasses Clarke County’s 20 percent reduction goal.

Physical plant officials attribute the success mainly to aggressive implementation of water-saving measures throughout campus and widespread support for the “Every Drop Counts” public awareness campaign.

“The work (of the task force) created tremendous public awareness of the critical drought situation and served as an impetus for personal water conservation activities on the campus,” said Ralph Johnson, associate vice president for the physical plant. “The savings were achieved through the collective efforts of faculty, staff and students taking personal responsibility for campus water use as well as by equipment upgrades and retrofits accomplished by the physical plant.”

Johnson said that even before the task force report was finalized, physical plant moved several water-saving projects that had been on the “back burner” to the top of the priority list. One project involved changing the way tap water is used to cool refrigeration compressors and other equipment in research labs in the Miller Plant Sciences Building and the biological sciences building.

The change, which reconfigured the use of inexpensive but inefficient devices called “once-through” cooling units, led to an average savings of 1.25 million gallons of water a month in the plant sciences building alone.

Physical plant also replaced 1,500 toilets, 500 urinals and 2,000 faucet aerators in instructional building rest rooms with water-saving fixtures. Those retrofits are projected to save 30 million gallons of water annually.

And, 63 water meters were installed on cooling towers in campus buildings to enable physical plant to better measure water usage and detect and immediately repair control malfunctions-steps that potentially could avert the loss of hundreds of gallons of water per hour.

Other water-saving measures include replacing shower heads and toilets in residence halls with low-flow devices, repairing leaking pipes and fixtures in campus buildings and using captured rainwater and better mulching for high-priority planted areas.

The other major key to reduced water consumption, Johnson said, was the enthusiastic buy-in by faculty, staff and students for the “Every Drop Counts” campaign, which not only educated people about the necessity of saving water but also got them actively involved.

A Web site that provided daily water-saving tips and invited additional suggestions and ideas brought in more than 115 responses. A hotline for reporting water leaks and wasteful practices brought in so many complaints about toilets with overly sensitive automatic flushing mechanisms that physical plant deactivated the mechanisms on 150 commodes.

The campus was plastered with posters, stickers, buttons and magnets encouraging such action as turning off water while washing hands. The Residence Hall Association encouraged students to take shorter showers and turn off water while brushing teeth. The Ramsey Student Center provided hand sanitizer as an alternative to washing. The Georgia Center for Continuing Education stopped daily washing of linens, and the center’s restaurant stopped serving water except on request.

Even athletics got involved. Athletic programs cut their water use by 39 percent for the year. Several head coaches made public service announcements about water conservation and at a football game, a row of male fans spelled out “CONSERVE WATER” in red and black paint across their backs.

Johnson said that although drought conditions have eased a bit over the last year, water conservation is still essential.

“The key issue going forward is to continue making water efficiency improvements even during times of abundant water supply, which we hope will return soon,” he said. “In this way, UGA will be much better when-not if-the next drought occurs.”