Stanford enacts temporary 5 percent water reduction plan

A Drought Response Plan has identified such university water-saving measures as improving efficiency in water systems and shortening the average length of showers. All measures are designed to cut domestic water use in light of the ongoing drought in California and much of the West.

L.A. Cicero White Memorial Fountain

The most visible sign of Stanford's water conservation measures is its water-less fountains, like iconic White Memorial Fountain. But many other measures are helping the campus respond to the current drought.

Stanford will reduce its domestic water use by an additional 5 percent for the foreseeable future as the university joins with other municipalities and organizations to respond to the ongoing drought affecting California and much of the West.

These temporary measures will add to the water reductions already achieved over the last 15 years or planned for the coming year. Since 2000, Stanford's water conservation program has reduced university domestic (drinkable) water use by about 20 percent, despite campus growth. This reduction translates to a 25 percent reduction on a per capita basis. 

The Stanford Energy System Innovations project currently under construction is projected to further reduce potable water use another 15 percent starting in 2015. Stanford's overall domestic water consumption is projected to be 35 percent below the 2000 baseline starting next year. 

The new Drought Response Plan, produced by Land, Buildings & Real Estate (LBRE), includes measures that will add a temporary 5 percent reduction in domestic water use. The plan identifies such water-saving measures as shutting off campus fountains, addressing leaks, calibrating water fixtures, optimizing irrigation systems, retrofitting high-use fixtures and installing smart, weather-based irrigation controllers.

Stanford has already implemented many of the conservation steps outlined in the plan, including turning off and draining the university's 18 fountains.

Stanford community members also will be asked to chip in by diminishing their water usage. The Office of Sustainability is rolling out a campus-wide campaign called Water Wise to encourage water conservation.  The office has posted a new website that recommends such individual actions as shorter showers, smarter laundry practices, reduced irrigation and the reporting of leaks.

In addition, the university is considering using a limited amount of groundwater to achieve an additional 5 percent temporary reduction in Hetch Hetchy reservoir potable water imports. A survey is currently under way that asks faculty members throughout campus to share concerns they might have with the use of blended groundwater/Hetch Hetchy water in research projects.

The Drought Response Plan is the result of months of analysis and planning by LBRE staff, particularly in the Water Services Civil Infrastructure Group. Staff members' efforts were in response to California Gov. Jerry Brown's Declaration of Emergency in January. Shortly after the governor's announcement, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which operates the Hetch Hetchy reservoir from which Stanford gets domestic water, asked all customers to curtail water consumption, with a system-wide goal of 10 percent. Stanford purchases all its domestic water from SFPUC, as do 26 members of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency.

In creating the Drought Response Plan, LBRE collaborated with such affected offices, departments and organizations as the Department of Athletics, the School of Medicine, Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders and Residential Dining & Enterprises to see what reductions might be possible, according to Fahmida Ahmed, associate director of sustainability and energy management.

According to an SFPUC website, precipitation at Hetch Hetchy to date is only about 35 percent of annual normal precipitation. Snowpack levels at Hetch Hetchy are 32 percent of median April conditions. Bay Area watersheds have received 33 percent of normal average annual precipitation.

Although Stanford's measures are temporary responses to the current drought, they will also be incorporated into a long-term sustainable water management plan currently under development, according to Tom Zigterman, associate director of Water Services & Civil Infrastructure in Sustainability and Energy Management.

"Besides the SFPUC system water, we are fortunate to have our own local surface water and groundwater sources," Zigterman said. "Our sustainable water management plan will set a course for water management that maximizes water-use efficiency, matches water sources to appropriate uses and manages these various sources sustainably to meet the university's long-term water needs."

Although the university's greatest water savings will come from changes in institutional systems and practices, Ahmed said individuals could have a profound effect if they are aware of what the university has already done to conserve water and also participate in conservation efforts.

Among the changes her office hopes to encourage is a reduction in the average shower time on campus dorms from nine to five minutes. As part of the Water Wise campaign currently being rolled out, campus water users will be encouraged to visit a website and pledge their support for making behavioral changes.