Water conservation is important to the University as a means of reducing costs and considering that the University is one of the largest consumers of fresh water in the State, conservation on campus can go a long way to reduce environmental stress on our region. Through specific purchasing decisions and behavioral modification, some departments have significantly reduced the University’s water usage.
The campus uses approximately a half billion gallons of water annually, which has remained relatively steady between 2009 and 2012 in spite of campus growth. The reason for the levelling in water consumption is likely the result of new water saving devices such as low-flow toilets, showers, faucets, and moisture sensors on irrigated fields.
In May 2014, the University Sustainability Council approved the Sustainable Water Use and Watershed Report that was prepared by a group of key stakeholders. The report establishes a new campus goal of reducing purchased water 20 percent by 2020 and emphasizes the strategic importance of water reclamation. At present, Maryland and most eastern U.S. states do not have regulatory programs in place to facilitate the design and approval of water reclamation projects. This is expected to change in the next few years.
Low-flow toilets and urinal flushometers are replacing the older fixtures in the residence halls. All showerheads in all non-renovated residence halls have been replaced with low-flow (2.5 gallon per minute) models. Low-flow (1 gallon per minute) sink aerators have been installed on the bathroom and kitchen sinks in all non-renovated halls. Additionally, Dining Services is introducing waterless urinals to some of their facilities. Just one waterless urinal typically saves around 20,000 gallons of water per year.
All dishwashing machines and ware-washing equipment have been replaced with energy efficient steam heated equipment that uses only 70 percent of the water required by the old machines. The steam used to heat the water is recycled. This saves approximately 80,000 gallons of water per month. Water-cooled refrigerator systems have been replaced with air cooled systems or closed loop cooling tower systems. This technology eliminates water usage in the refrigeration systems, which previously needed over 150,000 gallons of water yearly.
The University’s Golf Course has introduced a few different types of grass to the course, each requiring less watering than previous varieties. Bermuda and Zoysia grasses were introduced because of their resilience in warm weather and need for little water. In an effort to create more space for wildlife, native grasses are being encouraged to grow back into select areas. Native grasses are evolutionarily adapted to the varying climate of the mid-Atlantic region and as such, they require little maintenance. Overall, the Golf Course has reduced its water bill by 38 percent, creating a savings of around $30,000 each year. Although the new grass does not maintain its green color throughout the winter, Golf Course managers have realized that brown can be good too.
Outdoor water conservation is an ongoing challenge at the University. Wet springs, dry summers, and autumns that can go either way keep the grounds crew busy all year. Newly planted trees are hand watered for the first three years when needed. Gator Bags allow water to slowly seep into the ground to water the roots of the plant, as opposed to running downhill away from the tree. Some areas now have automatic irrigation systems that are operated by moisture sensors, such as those at the Engineering Fields. These sensors require water to be used only when the soil is too dry instead of simply running the sprinklers on a timer.
In 2011, CRS earned a Sustainability Fund grant of $64,717.67 to implement a sphagnum moss swimming pool water treatment system for indoor pools. This patented innovation provides the campus with a natural solution, reducing disinfectant by-products that cause respiratory diseases. With the new water treatment system, ERC became the first aquatic center in the country to use sphagnum, also known as peat, moss to filter biofilm and reduce bacteria. Within the first 6 months of implementation, the CRS has reduced its filtering process and found a 78% decrease in water consumption. This initiative saves almost 1 million gallons of water each year as well as a net annual saivings of $4,500.