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Water Conservation on a Drought-Stricken Campus with Mark Duclos
Director of Operations and Maintenance, The University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.
The Southeast has suffered through historic drought conditions. Describe the impact of those conditions on the university and your department. What was your role in helping the University of Georgia analyze its water use and implement water-saving programs?
The drought has been characterized as a 100-year drought, which means the probability of occurrence is once every 100 years. Toward the end of 2007, it looked like water levels would be too low to provide potable water for the region. In an effort to prevent running out of water, the state and the county implemented tighter restrictions on water use and mandated state agencies to reduce water use by 10 percent. To meet this mandate, the university formed a task force to come up with recommendations to achieve more effective water conservation on campus. The physical plant had a representative on this task force.
The first thing the task force did was determine the amount of water specific campus facilities were using. The study found the university uses 564 million gallons of water annually. Research buildings used 31 percent of that total, while 21 percent came from instructional buildings. Twenty percent was used for cooling, 14 percent for housing, 9 percent for irrigation, and 5 percent for dining operations.
The task force then came up with recommendations to reduce water use. The physical plant implemented many of these recommendations.
Can you describe these measures?
One of the first things we did in operations and maintenance was elevate the repair of leaking water pipes and fixtures to the top priority. Through our public-awareness program, we asked students and staff to report any leaks they found. When we received calls, we would dispatch plumbers immediately to address the problem.
We also were fortunate because prior to the drought, we started a program to replace toilets, urinals, and faucet aerators with low-flow devices. We commissioned a study a few years ago to identify all fixtures on campus. Based on this study, we started the program to replace these fixtures with low-flow devices. When the drought hit, we just accelerated the program. This retrofit program is saving 30 million gallons of water annually. We also removed automatic-flushing devices or disabled them in some buildings on campus. This was done in response to concerns that these devices flush too often.
In an effort to save more water, we tried to think outside the box and develop unique methods. One of these methods was developing and implementing a plan to capture and reuse condensate on campus cooling systems. The condensate is collected at the coils and reused as makeup water in our cooling towers. Given that 20 percent of the university’s water use is attributed to evaporative loss in the cooling process, the potential exists for significant savings. It is estimated that 50,000 gallons a day can be reused during the cooling season.
The university's research buildings used more water than any other facilities on campus. What specific retrofits helped improve water conservation in those buildings?
Most of the water used in the research buildings is for cooling the laboratory equipment with once-through water cooling. Water is used to cool equipment, such as autoclaves, steam sterilizers and lasers. The water is passed through the devices and then dumped down the sanitary drain lines. To help address this problem, we asked the researchers to identify equipment that uses once-through water cooling and send the list to our engineering department. From this list, engineering developed alternative methods of cooling, such as installing closed-loop water chillers or connecting the equipment to our campus chilled water loop.
Another device in the research buildings that uses a large amount of water is the water-vacuum aspirators. These devices use flowing water to create a vacuum. A program was implemented to replace the aspirators with vacuum pumps or tie the equipment into a central vacuum system. Changing the way we cool equipment and create vacuums is estimated to save over 33 million gallons of water annually.
What type of plan does your department have in place to deal with future droughts?
We are investigating the use of ultra-low-flow devices. Our current urinals use low-flow devices, which use 1 gallon of water per flush. We also have a pilot study using ultra low-flow devices that use 1 pint of water per flush. We even had a pilot program that tested waterless urinals in some of our buildings.
Our department is installing meters at our cooling towers so we can monitor their water use. Float valves on our towers used to get stuck open, which wasted water over a long period of time before anyone noticed. Some of the tower designs make it difficult for an observer to notice when a float valve is stuck open. By regularly checking the water meter at the towers, we quickly can determine if we have a problem.
We also use a good bit of water for our cooling tower blow-down process. We are testing the use of filtering the solids out and reusing the water, instead of discharging it.
Can you explain the education process to encourage occupants to limit personal water use and improve campus-wide water conservation?
The public-awareness campaign started with the provost and vice president sending an e-mail to the university community to increase awareness of the situation and encourage faculty, staff, and students to change their personal habits to help conserve water. The task-force co-chairs and several members participated in numerous interviews with national, state and local television, radio, and newspaper reporters to heighten awareness. The university also established a comprehensive Web site with links to various water-related sites, tips, and news stories.
The task force convened a public forum to make campus occupants aware of the need to conserve water on campus. In conjunction with the forum, the university also introduced its “Every Drop Counts!” campaign. Posters listing the number to call to report plumbing leaks were handed out to those at the meeting and to other groups over the following days. Custodians also placed these signs in campus buildings. Stickers were placed over sinks, in showers, and over toilets and urinals to remind everyone of the importance of water conservation.
The university athletic association collaborated with the public affairs office to create water-conservation messages for Sanford Stadium and all other athletic venues. A series of public-service announcements, scoreboard graphics, and posters were developed. Signs encouraging football fans to conserve water were placed strategically across campus. Starting with the homecoming game on Nov. 3, 2007, signs were placed in Sanford Stadium restrooms asking male fans to not flush the urinals after each use and instead allow restroom attendants to flush them periodically, reducing the number of flushes.