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Water, water everywhere: Water conservation efforts on campus

image of ISU Quad on a rainy day

Water is essential to so many parts of our lives—from cooking and cleaning, to heating and cooling. It could be easy to forget that fresh water is a resource, and one of the planet’s rarest.

“Only about 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water is freshwater, which is consumable for drinking,” said Director of the Office of Sustainability Missy Nergard. “There is a reason why exploring water conservation is an important piece to the University’s strategic goal of promoting an environmentally sustainable campus.”

Conservation efforts across campus vary. Some are as simple as the sink aerators in restrooms, which push air through the faucets and result in less water being used. Others include getting an assist from Mother Nature herself.

Several places on campus employ natural berms, or mounds of earth, to help filter water before it returns to the ground. “We call these bioswales, and they act like a ‘first rinse’ of water, as well as helping to prevent erosion,” said Assistant Superintendent of Grounds Larry Milby. Illinois State has several bioswales on campus near parking lots and garages, as well as a water detention basin near the University Residence.

Some areas on campus are not as open to Mother Nature, like parking lots. Milby’s team has been working on installing permeable concrete in some lots as a possible solution. “The concrete catches the flow of water,” he said. “You might have spills or contaminants that come off cars, or other substances on the pavement. The permeable concrete is the first ‘wash’ the water gets before it heads to the tile and into the storm drain.”

Lots by Cardinal Court and the Office of Energy Management carry permeable concrete. Milby said his crew always looks to see if permeable concrete would fit into new projects. “It’s good for the environment, but we can’t redo all the lots in permeable,” he said. “Sometimes the flow is too fast, and it would not be a good fit.  But when we do resurface, or when new lots come online, we will evaluate to see if it would work.”

Director of the Heating Plant Chris Homan helped oversee a system to measure the amount of water that returns to the plant, in an effort to locate leaks or losses due to pump failures. “When we see more water going out than coming back, we go looking for pump failures or leaks,” he said of the system that monitors water going through the dozens of condensate systems on campus. “Identifying problems has become a lot simpler.”

The same type of measurement system also assists in water used in the campus cooling towers for air conditioners. “We’re working to minimize water waste,” said Homan.

Throughout campus, water-bottle stations are also part of a conservation plan. The “hydration stations” slow the tide of water bottles used, and not only conserve water, but also help keep plastic water bottles from ending up in landfills. Students in Assistant Professor Jamie Wieland’s technology management class pushed for funds for two similar filling stations to be placed on the Quad, and received $18,000 from the Student Sustainability Committee.

“The first station is being installed at the south end of the Quad near the State Farm Hall of Business, the second location is still being determined,” said Nergard, who noted the “hydration stations” will also include pet waterers to accommodate service animals and other furry campus visitors. “It’s another step in the right direction.”

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