University water use eyed for improvement

July 22, 2010, 12:36 a.m.

Building on a history of sustainable leadership, and in the wake of recent Bay Area droughts, Stanford is ramping up efforts to conserve water and adopt eco-friendly practices around campus.

Stanford, looking to be a role model for the community, has set for itself a number of key goals to preserve the valuable resource. The University meets the restrictions of both the General Use Permit (GUP) under Santa Clara County and also the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which allocates 3.033 million gallons per day to the campus.

Currently, Stanford receives potable water from the SFPUC, which in turn collects water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada and other local watersheds.

Stanford’s history of water consumption is notable, as the University has made a marked effort to decrease the water usage in individual, day-to-day functions. Due to Stanford’s constantly expanding campus, it has implemented more stringent guidelines for its new buildings.

University water use eyed for improvement
Due to its constantly expanding campus, the University has implemented more stringent guidelines for its new buildings. While much has been accomplished, students say there are still more opportunities to decrease the University's freshwater footprint. (AILEEN LU/The Stanford Daily)

In new residential and public bathroom faucets, for example, Stanford aims to decrease its consumption from 2.2 gpm (gallons per minute) to 0.5 gpm with its newly engineered water-efficient equipment. The standard 1.6 gpf (gallons per flush) of public toilets are expected to reduce to 1.28 gpf with these conservational practices.

Stanford has additionally sponsored environmentally conscious student-run organizations around campus, notably Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS). As both co-president of SSS and head of the SSS “Water Group,” Siddhartha Oza ’11 has closely observed the University’s public water system and has been impressed with its efforts to conserve water around campus.

“The University has provided funding in the past for student initiatives seeking to save water,” Oza said. “As a result, Students for a Sustainable Stanford was able to install a rainwater catchment system for a house on the Row, saving gallons of usable water that would otherwise have flowed into drains.”

In addition to student-run organizations, Stanford has provided for a 24-hour maintenance hotline allowing students to immediately contact help about broken sprinkler heads or unnecessary water waste that they have noticed. Oza’s own experience with the hotline was positive. He said that a semi-leaky faucet in his dorm was fixed within a day of his call.

“Stanford is remarkably efficient with its water supplies,” Oza said. “[Stanford’s] water conservation program has reduced usage by 15 percent of the past eight years, and that statistic is certainly believable.”

Oza also explained that Stanford has implemented low-flow shower heads in dorms, trayless dining halls, dual-flush toilets and no-flush urinals in restrooms, high-efficiency clothes washing machines and sprinkler systems set to water plants at night to limit evaporation.

Yashraj Narang ’11 has also noticed Stanford’s environmentally conscious practices, including that there were no water fountains in his dorm, Crothers Hall.

“Crothers was renovated before last year; I believe they had water fountains before then,” Narang said. “When last year began, Stanford Housing told all of us that we should get water from the sinks instead, and they gave us free water bottles to make it easier to do so.”

But these changes were not universally popular.

“Both the trayless policy and the lack of water fountains met resistance when students first found out about them,” Narang said.

The inconvenience of constantly having to buy or fill water bottles irked many students, but Narang said he was not fazed.

“I don’t see [it] as being a major setback in my daily life,” he said. “Honestly, if Stanford is saving thousands of gallons of water by implementing these changes, I think they’re a good idea.”

By targeting individual departments and constructing realistic guidelines that will still satisfy the needs of particular buildings, Stanford has earned awards such as the Clean Bay Award and the 2009 Silicon Valley Water Conservation Award in the Large Organization category.

However, Stanford has not always been successful in its attempts to make the campus more eco-friendly — the Y2E2 building, also known as the Jerry Yang & Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, was hailed as a major step forward in recognizing and resolving today’s ecological problems, but met with criticism after a report stated that the energy consumption initially projected by the building’s creators was much lower than the actual energy consumption.

In Oza’s words, “Much has been accomplished, but there are still opportunities for the University to shrink its freshwater footprint.”

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