Water-wise actions add up to conservation

From efficient irrigation systems and plumbing fixtures to applied research, the University contributes to reduced regional use of water

Water-wise actions add up to conservation

From efficient irrigation systems and plumbing fixtures to applied research, the University contributes to reduced regional use of water

In the past couple of years, each new faucet installed in a building on the University of Nevada, Reno campus has been dramatically more efficient than the faucet it replaced - often using only half as much water.

One faucet at a time, one fixture at a time, one irrigation controller at a time, the University is taking big steps toward conservation of water even as growing enrollment increases the demand for water across the campus.

Michael Averett, the University's interim senior director for facilities maintenance services, says growth of the campus population makes year-to-year comparison of water use difficult. However, he points to a consistent campaign to improve water efficiency in buildings old and new:

  • New, efficient faucets use 1.5 to 2.2 gallons per minute, compared with 3.5 gallons per minute consumed by older fixtures.
  • All new buildings have water-efficient restrooms, including ultra-low flushing toilets and urinals and reduced-flow faucets.
  • About 90 percent of the toilets in campus facilities now use efficient flushometers rather than tanks. The first floor restrooms of the Joe Crowley Student Union, meanwhile, provide two waterless urinals that represent the newest in water-conservation techniques.
  • Residence halls, which have been focused on water conservation for more than two decades, rely on flow-reducing showerheads. Showers and sinks are monitored closely to ensure that leaks are repaired quickly.
  • A campus-wide database now includes information on more than half of its plumbing fixtures, providing a guide for replacement of inefficient faucets and toilets.

The payoff for the installation of efficient new fixtures is reflected in more than just the University's water bill.

"They are easier to maintain, and that makes our staff more efficient as well," Averett said.

The irrigation systems that keep the 27.8 acres of turf on the campus green during the summer months also are becoming steadily more efficient, said Marty Sillito, assistant director for ground services in the Facility Services Department.

The new technology allowed the University to meet the call by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority for 10 percent reduction in water use by residents and other water users this summer.

An important step came in 2014 with the installation of a new programmable irrigation control system that allows monitoring and adjustment of water consumption through Internet or smart-phone technology. The system, which will be extended as newly constructed buildings require irrigation, also provides automatic shutoff and notification in case of an irrigation head or line break or some other problem.

The older, manual irrigation-control systems require about a dozen workers to spend about 90 minutes to shut down systems for rain days or other events. The programmable system, which now controls about 10 percent of the campus irrigation system, allows the task to be done in seconds.

At the same time, Sillito says the University continues to look for ways to reduce irrigation demand. Turf has been removed from several areas, drip irrigation systems have been installed in many planter beds and landscaping plans increasingly call for drought-tolerant plants and xeriscaping techniques.

Meanwhile, the University's Main Station Field Lab along East McCarran Boulevard provides important research into water conservation at the same time that it's becoming more water-efficient in its own daily operation. Treated effluent from the nearby Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility provides much of the irrigation water for the Main Station's pastures, saving more than 6.5 million gallons annually.

A newly hired forage agronomist in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources is studying increased use of drought-tolerant and water-efficient plants in the pastures. University researchers at the Agricultural Experiment Stations also are exploring the use of water-efficient methods such as hoop houses and large-scale drip irrigation systems that could be put into use by Nevada's farmers and ranchers.

For more information about Facilities Services, go to unr.edu/facilities.

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