Facility management: Managing campus water policies

An integrated approach to campus water management creates efficiencies and can lower costs
By: | Issue: July, 2017
June 9, 2017

Every school needs a reliable water supply—no matter the climate—yet it is often the most overlooked aspect of facilities management.

It flows throughout the campus, from sinks and toilets to cooling and sprinkler systems. It’s essential for dining services, landscape management, research spaces, athletic facilities and academic programs such as agriculture. Even with increasing emphasis on sustainability, water management ranks below energy use or waste control.

“Energy is about four times as expensive as water, so if an institution has resources for a project, they’re going to look at energy because it’s going to return bigger immediate savings,” says Michelle Maddus, president of Danville, California-based Maddus Water Management and lead of the College Water Efficiency Group at the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a nonprofit organization of utilities, consultants and higher ed institutions.

Still, change is in the forecast, with a costly cloud lingering overhead. “Water rates are increasing across the country, and will continue to increase, and may outpace the future costs of energy,” says Maddus.

Prices may possibly quadruple over the next few decades, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Focusing on water now can pay dividends later.

An integrated approach

Many institutions have already gotten their feet wet by developing formal sustainability plans detailing campus water management policies.

For example, the 10-campus University of California system set a water mission for each individual institution to reduce use 36 percent by 2025. The initiatives address water usage across all facilities, such as increasing amounts of recycled water for irrigation.

Yale University operates more than 250 buildings, including medical, research and academic structures—some of which are centuries old—using 560 million gallons of water annually.

In 2013, the institution released a detailed water management plan (currently being updated) that includes a comprehensive vision for water management, such as aligning future design standards to management goals and implementing conservation projects.

“We imagined the need for establishing some water use baselines and an adaptive framework that can more or less stay the same for the next 20 years while the content changes and the targets we’re working toward change,” says Julie Paquette, director of energy management in the office of facilities.

When developing a plan, institutions should first audit all water-related features and facilities, adds Maddus.

Campuses are dynamic systems—equipment gets replaced as it breaks, often resulting in a mix of fixtures and devices. By taking overall stock, facilities administrators can better determine what upgrades and projects can provide the highest return on investment.

Installing high-efficiency faucets, toilets and showerheads all at once can be cost-effective, and can also simplify maintenance tracking. “During an audit, it’s rare that you don’t find 15, 20, 30 things that can be replaced,” says Maddus. (Free water audit software is available from the American Water Works Association, awwa.org.)

A measured approach

Data provided by water meters plays an integral role in assessing usage. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” says Chris Kopach, assistant vice president for facilities management at the University of Arizona, located in a desert climate where it is common to have summers with 100 days of 100-degree weather and little rain.

On average, the 390-acre campus annually requires half a billion gallons of water, provided by eight wells, reclaimed water and the Tucson aquifer. “We need to be as efficient as possible with the millions of gallons of water that we use,” says Kopach.

The institution relies on 800 computerized meters across campus to measure multiple utilities, including water and well systems. Technicians receive daily reports identifying anomalies, such as a sudden increase that may signify a system leak or malfunction.

“iPads, software and laptops—they’re just like screwdrivers now, and put data at our fingertips,” says Kopach. Campuses with only large master water meters struggle to track usage because there are only a couple of data points for reference.

Yale is billed on nearly 300 water accounts, the majority of which feature meters that are read only quarterly, and often only by someone who physically checks the meter, says Paquette. To improve efficiency, Yale is partnering with its regional water authority to roll out an advanced metering infrastructure that will read all remote meters wirelessly and in real time. The university, which now tracks just four data points per year on a building, will be able to collect dozens of hourly data points. “We’ll have a really good sense of what’s being used day to day, and we’ll be able to pick up on maintenance issues that may be causing excessive water use,” says Paquette.

Free and recycled water

Many institutions funnel reclaimed or recycled water into systems to reduce the amount of potable water used. This also decreases costs. Reclaimed water is a significant part of the University of Arizona’s water management strategy. Although rain can be sparse, the region will occasionally get heavy summer storms that produce an inch of rain per hour.

Stormwater collection systems on roofs and in parking lots collect the free resource. “One building—99 percent of the rain would run off it and into the street, and we’re now able to catch all of that in basins right outside,” Kopach says. “This water is used for irrigation for the trees and landscape.”

At other colleges and universities,reclaimed water powers toilets and urinals, and heating and cooling systems. The University of California, Irvine, which uses 360 million gallons of potable water annually, broke ground recently on a retrofit of the institution’s central cooling plant—the air-conditioning hub for 65 buildings.

The system, which will operate on recycled water, features a 4.5 million-gallon evaporative cooling tower that uses water to lower air temperature to 39 degrees and then pumps that air throughout campus in a closed-loop circulation system. When completed, it will save more than 50 million gallons of potable water per year.

“For us, this is a game changer in that it’s a large amount—about 14 percent of our potable use is at the central plant,” says Richard Demerjian, the university’s assistant vice chancellor for environmental planning and sustainability.

As large water customers, higher ed institutions work with utilities companies to get rebates, cost-shares or grants to help with system retrofits. Utilities are also increasingly partnering on and funding water conservation and hot-water energy projects.

Yale is in the early stages of developing a utility-scale reclaimed water system for its medical campus that would harvest 50,000 gallons a day from public sewage pipes. Reclaimed water would be treated before being sent to a power plant for use in cooling towers.

Other water efforts

Conservation represents another key component of many campus water management goals. Under UC Irvine’s water action plan, the institution recently retrofitted all plumbing fixtures in student housing, which resulted in a reduction of 45 million gallon annually. Academic buildings were also retrofitted, adding another 25 million gallons in savings.

Cool air is critical in the desert, so the University of Arizona’s system of 22 chillers—which requires 46,000 tons of water—relies on a thermal ice storage facility. Millions of gallons of water are frozen during the overnight hours when electricity rates are lowest. Then, during peak, daytime usage, the ice is melted to provide cool air.

The campus also features more than 500 waterless urinals with an enzyme-based, bacteria-eating cube that absorbs minerals, reduces smells and lowers water usage. In addition to launching major projects, institutions continue to implement smaller sustainability-friendly initiatives to reduce water usage.

Trayless dining, for example, is having a big impact; among the most recent institutions introducing it is Ohio University, where it is expected to save nearly 440,000 gallons per year.

“There’s a lot of room for growth and improvement on most campuses in the water arena,” says consultant Maddus. “Water is not an infinite resource and it should be managed wisely.”

Ray Bendici is special projects editor of UB.