A Water Calculator for the SCU Community
Rissa Yaw, Programs Assistant
Have you ever wondered how much water you use in a day? Jordan Webster, an Environmental Ethics Fellow of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, is working with both the Center for Sustainability and the Facilities Department to create an accurate calculator of water use for campus. The Water Calculator is inspired by the Hoofprint Calculator, which helps people measure how much carbon dioxide it takes to support their lifestyle. The Hoofprint Calculator is similar to a carbon footprint calculator, but it was created specifically for the SCU community. Like the Hoofprint Calculator, Jordan’s Water Calculator will be customized with data based on SCU’s buildings and facilities.
Jordan, a senior environmental science major with a minor in economics, is one of the three 2015-16 Environmental Ethics Fellows. While working on the Water Calculator, he has been faced with both time and resource restrictions. In an attempt to determine a numeric value for how much water the average person uses at SCU, Jordan has been provided with aggregate data for campus-wide water usage. He hopes to determine an average for individual dorms in the future; however, the data is not as accurate as he would like. This is because there are only two water meters for the entire campus, making it difficult to pinpoint where the water usage is coming from. Thus, there is no way to really tell the different usage between residential halls. The average number that Jordan will get from the aggregate data will also be heavily influenced by water usage of buildings like the Benson and the aquatic center, which will inaccurately reflect student water usage.
In the next few years, the campus is planning on adding individual water meters on more buildings to increase the accuracy of water usage data. Until then, Jordan is relying not just on aggregate data, but information on plumbing in each building. There are some roadblocks, however, since older buildings on campus require a higher water flow to flush out their systems. This creates a huge variety of utilities set up throughout the campus. In addition, Facilities repairs parts for different utilities on campus (such as flow regulators or general parts of toilets, urinals, sinks, or showers) on a per order basis. Therefore, there is no universal inventory of all utilities throughout campus. With regards to the Water Calculator, users will only be able to see estimates based on averaging all appliances of each building, instead of being able to plug in what they are using by selecting the dorm they live in.
Jordan’s role is to gather all the data for the Water Calculator and create a database so that the next person who takes over can edit the data as the university gains more accurate sources of water usage data. When the calculator goes live on the Markkula website, students, faculty, and staff will be able to input their data and see how much water they use. Like the Hoofprint Calculator, the Water Calculator will provide users with tips on how to reduce their usage and save money.
Although Jordan will have graduated by the time the calculator goes live, he is very interested in seeing how the Water Calculator will grow in the future. He says, “I would want to know how much water I am using in my everyday life anyway, so doing the Water Calculator has been a journey in itself for me.” Working on the Water Calculator has taught him a lot about water usage and conserving water. The Environmental Ethics Fellowship has given Jordan a great way to combine environmentalism with morality and ethics by “engaging the SCU community to become more aware of both their impact and what’s going on around them.” Sustainability drew Jordan to SCU since at the time, the environmental program was new and he saw it as a way SCU was embracing progressive ways of thinking about the environment and our impact on it.
Jordan believes the Water Calculator, similar to the Hoofprint Calculator, can be used in environmental science and studies classes to educate students from any academic program of their impact on earth as well as to inform them on best practices for dealing with California’s water scarcity issue. He hopes that this will lead to “lifelong behavioral change, making our world incrementally more sustainable."