Marine lab water projects lead to significant savings

The lab has been able to use seawater instead of freshwater for flushing pump seals and washing animal platforms

Randolph Skrovan
Long Marine Lab facilities manager Randolph Skrovan with some of the pumps that are now flushed with seawater, savingas much as 2 million gallons of freshwater a year.

The UC Santa Cruz Long Marine Lab's switch to using saltwater to rinse mammal decks and to flush pump seals should save the campus roughly 2 million gallons per year.

"The campus was clear about wanting to save as much water as possible during this historic drought," said Steve Davenport, managing director for the Long Marine Lab. "We got that message at the lab and began looking at innovative ways we might cut our potable water use."

Davenport and Randolph Skrovan, facilities manager for the lab, worked together on the proposals and, once funded, saw them through to fruition.

The lab, which is monitoring usage with the campus's cellular water meter system, has recorded a significant drop in freshwater use since both projects were completed in August.

For the first project, plumbers connected hose bibs to the water lines that draw Monterey Bay seawater that's used to fill dolphin, sea otter and sea lion pools. Researchers are frequently washing down the animal platforms, leading to a significant amount of water use. This project now allows them to use seawater instead of freshwater.

The second project was more complex. Six pumps at the marine lab had been using freshwater to flush their seals, a spinning part that keeps water from spraying out of its motor shaft, which would otherwise be shredded by sediment and salt water. Each seal used about a gallon of freshwater per minute all year long, which added up to about two million gallons each year.

With campus funding and the expertise of the Physical Plant department, Davenport and Skrovan were able to connect two pumps to filtered seawater that's circulated through the dolphin and seal pools. One pump was equipped with a more advanced seal that can withstand the gritty sea water.

Two other pumps that require a freshwater seal flush were outfitted with sensors that turn off the seal flush when the pumps are not running.

A year-over-year comparison of meter readings from the middle of the night - when people at the lab aren't using water for faucets and restrooms - shows that the facility's automated water usage has been reduced to 1.6 gallons per minute, roughly a 75 percent reduction from when it was using 6.6 gallons per minute.