University to expand water conservation impact

Sustainability efforts at The University of Texas at Austin have gained momentum in recent years but programs focused on conservation are nothing new to the university.

The university began its sustainability work in the early 1980s with the implementation of water-saving measures that include a system of about six miles of underground pipes that handle direct, internal reuse of water for the university's cooling towers.

The university recovers about 3.5 million gallons of water for reuse each month and since the 1980s roughly 1.3 billion gallons of water have been recovered.

The university is continually seeking ways to increase and improve conservation and one of its newest green ventures is supporting the City of Austin's water conservation efforts through current and future initiatives.

One initiative already underway is expected to save about 70 million gallons of water per year-close to one-third of the combined 220 million gallon reduction the City of Austin is seeking from its commercial and industrial customers annually. The resulting reduction in carbon emissions is equivalent to taking 42 cars off the road each year, or planting more than 9,600 trees.

Under the direction of the university's Facilities Services Department, more than 5,100 plumbing fixtures in education and general buildings on the main and J. J. Pickle Research campuses are being repaired or replaced with water-saving devices by the end of 2008.

Water savings also result in energy savings because energy is required to produce and pump the water. By conserving water the university will reduce its carbon footprint by 474,133 pounds of carbon dioxide annually (398,633 kilowatt hours per year). The pump energy savings is equal to the energy required to power 28 homes for a year and it's also equal to the electricity used annually in Mezes Hall.

The university is developing a reclaimed water master plan in order to estimate the demand for reclaimed water on the main campus and for expanding reclaimed water distribution. Reclaimed water is slated to come to the main campus by fall 2010, via a 24-inch pipeline from the City of Austin reclaimed water facility at Mueller Airport, down Red River Street to the university.