Stanford responds to the drought with further water reduction measures

Sept. 25, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

In response to the extreme drought in California, Stanford has implemented an array of water-saving devices and programs throughout campus, including restricting irrigation and offering the Stanford community devices to monitor water usage.

In January, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in California due to the three-year drought, and has called for a 20 percent reduction in water usage. The State Water Resources Control Board implemented emergency regulations effective Aug. 1 which fine individuals and companies for excess water usage.


Outdoor water usage

To comply with the new regulations implemented by the state, Provost John Etchemendy ’82 announced a watering schedule for lawns at faculty and staff housing.  On July 30, Etchemendy issued Emergency Drought Response Measures in response to California emergency drought regulations.

In an email to faculty and staff, Etchemendy stated that effective Aug. 1, “irrigation on Faculty and Staff Housing and other campus lawns using domestic water may occur only on Tuesday and Saturday nights for even numbered addresses, and Wednesday and Sunday nights for odd numbered addresses, between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

Noncompliance of the state regulations are punishable by fines of up to $500 per day for individuals and $10,000 per day for water supply agencies.

The mandatory measures prohibit the application of domestic water to any hard surface, watering outdoor landscapes to cause runoff, using a hose to wash a motor vehicle, unless the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle, using potable water in a fountain unless the water is recirculated and irrigating landscape with potable water more than two days a week.

These methods help fix a common problem — overwatering — as excess water running into the street and sewer is a major waste of water.

Although Stanford has not implemented tiered billing, in which greater usage of water is charged at a higher rate, and which has been found to reduce water consumption by 50 percent in the Irvine Ranch Water District, Stanford has revised the water bill received by faculty and staff.  The newer bills include a recap by month of water usage in a bar graph, allowing people to see trends in their water use.

In addition to implementing water conservation, Stanford faculty, staff and students are encouraged to report any water leaks, run off from irrigation, violations of the mandatory measures, or to suggest opportunities for water conservation to the Stanford Land, Buildings and Real Estate organization.

“If the University has to, it will [let lawns turn brown.] As the drought gets longer and longer, we must resort to stronger and stronger measures to conserve,” said Barton Thompson ’73 MBA ’75 JD ’76, Stanford Law professor and Perry L. McCarty Director and Senior Fellow of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

According to Thompson, Stanford is experimenting with Smart Irrigation Controllers, which reduce irrigation based on weather conditions and help reduce water usage and minimizes runoff.

Thompson, who is also one of the faculty members piloting the control system, said, “These controllers are used on the main campus and are being tested at faculty homes.”


Stanford students find fun ways to conserve water

Stanford students have also made active efforts to contribute to the water conservation efforts of the University. Since 2012, students have participated in Water Wars, an inter-dorm competition to determine which dorm has the greatest reduction in water usage.

According to Stephen Koo ’15, who helped set up the inter-dorm Water Wars for the past three years, these competitions have made students more water conscious, with many continuing their good habits after the competition.

“I met a lot of students from Water Wars from two years ago and I think they remember being a part of [the competitions] and being excited, and being a part of this large collective effort to conserve water,” Koo said.

Some ways students used less water during Water Wars included: taking shorter showers, turning the tap off when brushing their teeth and doing only full loads of laundry.

“A lot of [competitions] are good educational tools to make people aware that there is a shortage of water,” said Joseph Stagner, executive director of the Department of Sustainability and Energy Management.

According to Stagner, the University is initiating placing more energy meters and water meters throughout campus. The data from these meters would later be placed into a database and made available information to the public. Theoretically, more meters around the dorms would allow students to gauge their energy and water usage.

Members of the Students for a Sustainable Stanford set up a refillable station for water bottles on the second floor of Old Union at Stanford, to create a convenient and efficient  place to fill up. The club is tracking the success of this refillable station and hopes to install more around the campus.

“The key is for people to understand that they have the power in their hands to actually change the levels of water consumption in their dorms or at their homes,” Koo said.


Other water conservation efforts at Stanford

In addition to free shower timers, Stanford is also offering students, faculty and staff in campus housing free shower heads, kitchen and bathroom aerators and toilet leak detection tablets.

Marty Laporte, associate director of Utilities For Water Resources & Environmental Quality, said, “The shower timer has a suction on the back of it … and it beeps at you after five minutes.” Laporte added that the shower timers are popular items, with hundreds given out already.

Methods for saving water and information on water efficiency at Stanford are available on Stanford’s Sustainability & Energy Management website, with links to rebates for planting drought resistant plants, lawn removal, low water usage toilets and high efficiency clothes washers.

Although free water timers are available for members of the Stanford community, one staff member is keeping his shower short the old fashioned way.

Akhtar Masood, a member of the Department of Sustainability and Energy Management posted on Sustainable Stanford’s Facebook page, “I am helping conserve water by cutting my shower time in half by singing ‘Let it Go’ only twice in the shower.”


Contact Jacqueline Carr at jacquelineecarr ‘at’


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