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Stanford community encouraged to step up water conservation

The university community is being asked to increase water conservation, given the state's recently declared drought.

Faculty, staff and students are being asked to increase water conservation efforts, as long-term forecasts show no sign of rain in the upcoming weeks and possibly months.

Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and urged California residents to reduce water consumption by 20 percent. The declaration comes as the state faces the worst drought experienced since recordkeeping began 100 years ago. The last drought emergency was declared in 2009 and lifted in 2011.

While the campus is not currently under mandatory rationing, university water officials believe that efforts now to save water provide the best chance to avoid rationing later this year.

Suggested steps, which include everything from reporting leaks and broken irrigation sprinklers to taking shorter showers, are available on the university's water efficiency website.

Most of Stanford's drinking water is supplied by the Hetch Hetchy water system in the Sierra Nevada. The system, operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), serves 2.6 million residential, commercial and industrial customers in the Bay Area. At this point, the Hetch Hetchy system reservoirs are about two-thirds full, thanks to rainfall and snowmelt accumulation over the past several years. However, a continued lack of rainfall the rest of this season would stress those supplies.

Tom Zigterman, the university's associate director for water services and civil infrastructure, said San Francisco water officials will continue to monitor the Sierra Nevada reservoir conditions over the next several months and will announce whether or not rationing is required.

Zigterman said Stanford has its own local surface and groundwater resources that may be able to partially offset shortages from the SFPUC over the short run, depending on the extent of the drought. He said the university is moving quickly to increase efficiency and conservation, especially in irrigation practices, in case February and March rainfall amounts remain low.

In 2001, Stanford developed the Water Conservation, Reuse and Recycling Master Plan to identify ways to keep water demand below the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission allocation. The aggressive water conservation effort has decreased the university's water use by 21 percent and allowed the campus to operate within the allowance.

Joseph Stagner, executive director of sustainability and energy management on campus, said that even those efforts may not be sufficient to avoid rationing should the drought continue.

The conservation program has included installation of low-flow fixtures, improved irrigation control systems, conversion to non-potable water for irrigation and behavior changes among students, staff and residents. For instance, water misers, which are devices that monitor steam condensate and apply cold water only when needed, have been installed on almost all campus autoclaves and steam sterilizers. In addition, more than 10,000 academic and student-housing bathroom fixtures have been replaced with water-efficient fixtures.

In addition to the water conservation tips on the university's water efficiency website, the Office of Sustainability will soon launch a more active outreach program to help students, staff and faculty participate in water conservation actions.