UofA Works to Maximize Water Conservation Efforts

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Article courtesy of Millie Hogue | September 17, 2014 | The Arkansas Traveler | Shared as educational material

The UofA will begin three major projects to improve water conservation on campus in the upcoming year, campus officials said.

Though the UofA has been actively working to improve sustainability since the early 2000s, water consumption on campus remains high. In 2013 the UofA spent almost $687,000 on water bills, using a total of about 229 million gallons, according to the 2002-2013 Comparative Water Chart published by the UA Office for Sustainability.

 To reduce these numbers, UA faculty and students from departments across campus will work toward a common goal. Planned projects include the installation of a run-off pond that will supply air conditioning systems, a redesign of UA irrigation protocol and the creation of a $5,000 scholarship rewarding students for their sustainability efforts. Some of these changes will be effective as early as the end of the fall semester, while others will take several more months to complete.

The planned run-off pond will be installed along Williams Street near Harmon Parking Garage, at a location that is currently a parking lot, according to the July 8, 2014 minutes of the UA Sustainability Council meeting. Though the project will result in a reduction of campus parking space, it could save the UofA as much as $40,000-$60,000 annually, said Mike Johnson, associate vice chancellor for facilities. The pond will collect storm water, settle particulates and become a water source for the UofA’s cooling towers. This project should be completed within the next year, Johnson said.

Redesign of the UA irrigation protocol is expected to change the way plants and trees are watered on campus. The UofA’s land holdings will be identified as one of three classifications, campus planning officials said. Some areas will be marked, “natural,” meaning that they need very little, if any irrigation. Other sections of campus will be termed, “park.” Finally, areas near the center of campus will be designated as “garden,” spaces. Those sections will receive the most irrigation, but should also occupy the least space, according to the UA planning website.

The new $5,000 scholarship program being developed by the Office for Sustainability will serve as an incentive for students to reduce their water and energy use, said Carlos Ochoa, director of the Office for Sustainability. Support for the scholarship should come from Northwest Arkansas businesses, Ochoa said.

“A lot of organizations recognize that we are beginning to run into these types of ecological resource barriers,” Ochoa said. “We want to offer an opportunity for those companies that are making serious contributions to sustainability to get that message in front of students, and to inspire students to do the right thing.”

The scholarship will be broken into $1,000 rewards and given to five student applicants from the residence hall that wins the UACampus Conservation Nationals in April, if the development process is successful, Ochoa said.

The end goal of these projects is to limit the environmental impact of the university, but they should also raise awareness among students, said Kenneth Hamilton, director of sustainability for the Residents Interhall Congress.
“We want to teach people that this isn’t just something that a lot of tree-huggers look at,” Hamilton said. “Conserving water keeps money in your wallet, is good for the environment and helps us progress as a culture.”

Water conservation is certainly a financially responsible practice, Ochoa said. He predicted that even a 10 percent decrease in water usage could save the UofA as much as $100,000 annually.

That 10 percent has become even more significant as enrollment numbers at the UofA continue to increase, breaching 26,000 for the first time this fall. As the student population has increased, so has the UofA’s water bill. Campus water consumption rose by more than 18 percent from 2011-2013, according to the Office for Sustainability.

Campus planners have worked to mitigate some of the environmental impact of this growth by improving the efficiency of many water systems on campus, Johnson said. Renovations to more than 70 academic buildings have included the installation of aerated faucets, low flow toilets, run-off cisterns and other forms of conservation technology that have reduced water usage across 4-5 million square feet of campus, Johnson said.

Despite these efforts, sophomore Miranda Baker said she thinks the university’s three upcoming water conservation projects are critical.

“We still have a long way to go in the improvement of our water usage practices,” Baker said, “and a lot of these projects have been a long time coming.”

Others, Hamilton included, looked instead to the great progress the UofA has made toward sustainability in recent years.

“We just want to shine as a beacon to all other campuses around the country,” Hamilton said. “We want to show people that this is how it can be done, and say to them, maybe you can follow in our footsteps.”

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