As California grapples with a drought that is perhaps the worst in 500 years, water providers and state officials have asked residents to pitch in and conserve water. On Jan. 17, Gov. Jerry Brown ’59 declared a drought state of emergency and called on Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. As a good steward of the environment, SCU has done well with reducing water usage during the past decade—those efforts were recognized recently when the University received the Acterra Award for Sustainability, one of the top awards for sustainability in Silicon Valley and an honor for which Santa Clara was selected among a distinguished group of finalists including Google and SunPower Corporation. Here’s a look at where efforts stand.
The campus irrigates 85% of its 104 acres with recycled water. Recycled water accounts for 40% of total campus water consumption.
Front-loading washing machines, installed in all residence hall laundry rooms, use 35% to 50% less water than top-loading models. Low-flow showerheads are used in 95% of residence halls. Low-flow toilets and sink faucet aerators have been installed across the campus.
Flush (or not)
215 water-free urinals have been installed across campus. Each urinal saves an average of 40,000 gallons of water annually. Toilets in the Harrington Learning Commons and Locatelli Activity Center are flushed with recycled water. Dual-flush toilets are in use in the Pat Malley Fitness and Recreation Center and Facilities Building. Each low-flush flush uses two-thirds less water than a conventional flush.
Since 2005, the gross square footage of campus buildings has increased by nearly one-third, and weighted campus users (a term that reflects how much time someone spends on campus—for example, living in a residence hall vs. elsewhere) have increased by 47%. But total water consumption has increased by just 7%. Per capita, that means a significant decrease.
Reduce potable water usage and landscaping water by a further 20%. Water meters for individual buildings, additional use of recycled water, and a water audit this spring are in the mix.
“We’ve done all the easy stuff.”
By investing in new water-efficient fixtures, switching to recycled water where possible, and adding drought-tolerant plants, University officials have harvested the low-hanging fruit. “We’re at the point where we’ve done all the easy stuff. Now we need to be creative,” says Lindsey Kalkbrenner ’04, MBA ’09, director of the Center for Sustainability. “It’s time to look critically at our water use and make some tougher decisions.”
While the use of recycled water beyond landscaping would yield savings, current law requires the installation of a separate pipe to carry recycled water used to flush toilets. If included in the planning for a new building from the start, as was done for the Learning Commons, the process is not onerous; retrofitting existing buildings to use recycled water is much more expensive.
Water meters would also help. A handful of campus buildings are sub-metered for water. But the installation of meters in every campus building to track water use—as has been done for electricity—is hindered by the fact that water is, relative to electricity, so cheap. The return on investment for electricity meters is quicker, making it easier to justify their expense.
Additional water savings should be found via other initiatives. The Santa Clara Valley Water District plans to conduct a free audit this spring of water use from campus landscaping. The Center for Sustainability is working to raise student awareness of the need to conserve water as well. Kalkbrenner received numerous emails from students with tips about running toilets and leaking faucets in response to the campus-wide water conservation email alert.
Sip. Do Not Gulp.
The de Saisset Museum was putting a project about water in the works long before it was clear that this past winter would be so dry. Sip. Do Not Gulp. was a site-specific installation by Bay Area artist Michele Guieu that ran at the museum through March 16. Part of a community initiative with the San Jose Museum of Art, it called attention to shifting patterns and practices of water usage in the Santa Clara Valley in the past and present. A mural extended across three walls, with a thread connecting stories from Ohlone peoples, the Mission, and the tech hub of Silicon Valley. The installation also included a video documentary where an artist, a tribal storyteller, and two scientists—including Ed Maurer, an associate professor of civil engineering at SCU—examine this precious resource we can no longer take for granted.