Stanford's conservation efforts yield water savings

As a result of extensive water conservation measures, Stanford University saw a 4.5 percent reduction in domestic water use and an 18 percent reduction in lake water use from last year.

Yuri Samsonov/Shutterstock Dripping water faucet

Examples of increased efficiency on Stanford's campus include intensified efforts to address leaks and over-watering.

The Stanford community's commitment to conservation this year resulted in a 4.5 percent reduction in domestic water use and an 18 percent reduction in lake water use over last year.

Tom Zigterman, director of water resources and civil infrastructure, and Jennifer Fitch, an environmental engineer, recently reported the water savings numbers, which cover February to October, to the university's Sustainability Working Group.

Stanford's water conservation this year is the result of measures instituted at the beginning of the year in response to California's prolonged drought and to Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of a drought emergency.

The savings come on top of the more than 20 percent reduction in domestic water use that Stanford achieved from 2001 through 2013, and the expectation of a further 15 percent reduction when the Stanford Energy System Innovations project is completed next year.

Drought response plan

The university's conservation efforts included the following:

  • Eighteen fountains were shut down and drained.
  • Efficiency was improved through leak detection, calibration of water fixtures and optimization of irrigation equipment.
  • Plumbing retrofits continued throughout campus buildings.
  • Smart, weather-based irrigation controllers were installed.
  • Monthly reports were sent to campus departments to make them increasingly aware of their water use.
  • Behavior changes were made by students, staff and residents, as promoted through the Water Wise program.

As examples of increased efficiency, Zigterman cited intensified efforts to address leaks and over-watering and to make better use of water misers on sterilizers that clean research equipment throughout campus.

In addition, campus leaseholders in faculty and staff residences, as well as other campus units using potable water for irrigation, were advised of state regulations promoting water conservation in California.

"We've done a lot to conserve water, and we did pretty well. But there are still more water-conserving things we can do," Zigterman said. "There are more areas of water use that we can tighten up."

The recent rains have been helpful in combating the drought, but they are not nearly enough to overcome the historic lack of rain over the past several years, Zigterman said.

"It'll take a lot more storms to end the drought," he said.

Future conservation

As a result, Zigterman said his department continues looking for new ways to conserve, including making better use of lake water, which is non-potable, to relieve domestic (potable) water use. Stanford's current measures will be incorporated into a long-term sustainable water management plan under development.

Unlike many California municipalities, Zigterman said, Stanford is able to leverage a variety of water sources to meet campus needs. They include domestic drinking water from the Hetch Hetchy system purchased from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), lake water from groundwater wells and creeks, and recycled water from Stanford's treated industrial process wastewater.

Using a blend of well water and SFPUC domestic water for the campus' domestic water supply is among the conservation measures the university might consider in the future, Zigterman said. The campus community was recently surveyed to see if blended water could replace the SFPUC potable water currently used on campus.

Another conservation measure would be to convert more of the remaining irrigation systems that currently use potable water to non-potable lake water.

Zigterman is also optimistic about promising wastewater treatment technologies that could eventually emerge from the new William and Cloy Codiga Resource Recovery Center at Stanford. The facility, used for research by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is designed to accelerate commercial development of new technologies by testing at a scale large enough to demonstrate processes' effectiveness.

More information about water efficiency at Stanford is available on the Sustainability and Energy Management website.