Campus exceeds goal for water savings, seeks to do more

UC Santa Cruz, which has reduced its water usage by more than 25 percent, was recently recognized nationally as a top performer in water conservation

Student pledging to save water
Today, total annual campus water use is 20 million gallons less than 20 years ago, even though campus population has grown.

Like cities across California, UC Santa Cruz has been working hard to further reduce its water usage in the midst of the state's historic drought.

In the past fiscal year, the campus cut water use by 27 percent, exceeding the city's Stage 3 Water Emergency reduction goal of 25 percent, and water managers continue to look for ways to save even more.

The campus and its efforts were recognized as a top performer in conserving water and protecting water quality by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and is featured in its 2015 Sustainable Campus Index.

The success is the result of hard work from people across campus who stepped up to help lower campus consumption in a variety of ways - reducing irrigation, encouraging behavior modification, sharing more information with users, and installing low-flow faucets, toilets, and pumps.

"Conserving water on campus is everyone's job," said Elida Erickson, interim director of sustainability. "In addition to reducing usage, the campus is looking at ways to harvest and reuse water."

Since spring 2014, a group of staff and students, has met monthly as the Water Working Group. Members come from all parts of campus - labs, the farm, the arboretum, housing and more. Santa Cruz Water Department conservation manager Toby Goddard offers an update on the city's usage and the status of the San Lorenzo River and the Loch Lomond reservoir.

The group shares campus usage and savings, and explores ways to do more.

In a recent meeting, Energy Manager Patrick Testoni reported that the campus is off to a strong start for the 2015-16 year, lowering its summer months' usage by a cumulative 24.3 percent.

"Achieving water reduction targets on campus requires effective engagement of students, staff, and faculty," Testoni said, "and our success speaks to the collaborative approach we have had between these groups on campus."

The Water Working Group put together a list of projects that could quickly reduce usage. The projects included laboratory equipment and ultra-low-flow toilets and faucets retrofits in some of the busiest campus areas.

Additionally, low-flow shower heads were installed in campus residence halls along with reminders to aim for a 5-minute shower.

The campus also has invested in cellular broadcasters connected to its 400 water meters that allows it to track usage across campus by the hour. This level of detail also alerts water managers to identify potential leaks. Several have been detected - and fixed - since the retrofits began in May.

Campus water use per capita has declined for more than a decade. The campus baseline use - a three-year average from fiscal years 2003-2005 - is 14,200 gallons per person a year.

In fiscal year 2012, the campus used 9,100 gallons per person, a 36 percent reduction from the baseline. Today's per capita use is at about 8,400 gallons per year, a 40 percent decline from the baseline.

Today, total annual campus water use is 20 million gallons less than 20 years ago, even though campus population has grown.