New water meters across campus have web-based monitoring devices to detect leaks faster to prevent unecessary water usage. Photo by Calyse Tobias.

In a state with a dwindling water supply, UC Santa Cruz has been awarded for its standout water conservation practices.

At the 2015 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference on Oct. 1 hosted by San Francisco State University, UCSC was given the best practice award for drought planning and water saving efforts on a college campus.

In response to California’s drought, UCSC collaborated with the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS), students and city officials to minimize water consumption. In the past three years, UCSC lessened the use of irrigation on fields, implemented web-based monitoring devices to detect leaks and encouraged students to cut down on personal water use.

UCSC Physical Plant Energy analyst Erik Eriksen said UCSC would be fined $350,000 a month if the campus goes over the granted 10 percent of the city’s total water allotment. The UCSC Physical Plant is in charge of facilities and infrastructure operations, building maintenance, managing refuse and recycling services and supporting the Office of Sustainability.

UCSC successfully met the county’s mandate, and reduced its water use by 20 percent since 2013. Eriksen said the push from the student body to cut down water use — not the fear of being fined or penalized for going over the given water allotment — motivated the school to develop more efficient methods of saving water.

“We have one of the strictest water restrictions of the UC campuses,” said campus energy manager Patrick Testoni.

Testoni explained Santa Cruz County is almost five months into its stage three drought plan, which requires county residents to reduce water use by 25 percent. While the university has implemented water-saving strategies for three years, in the last eight months UCSC is estimated to have saved 27.8 million gallons of water by the physical energy department.

The California Higher Education Sustainability Conference is the only sustainability conference in the state where the private colleges and three public education systems — UC, California State University and California Community College — are among the organizers and attendees.

OPERS posted “reduce water use” signs in locker rooms, stopped handing out towels in the Wellness Center to avoid washing machine use and updated irrigation system on the field, said associate director of facilities and operations Todd Hammonds.

Hammonds explained that the implementation of sustainability projects in the facilities has proven not only effective, but an inexpensive way to save water. OPERS also established web-based monitor systems built to detect leaks, which allows the staff to repair the leaks quickly and avoid large wastes of water. The physical energy department replaced outdated monitoring devices with more monitoring systems that can electronically pin-point leaks in water pipes all across campus.

The reduction of water use by OPERS is important because it contributes to the larger part of the campus’s water consumption, said building operations lead supervisor Richard Pham.

“We give people the luxury of showers, a pool, water fountains with filters, swim towel service,” Pham said. “All of these things affect our drought because we do these things on a day to day basis. We’ve been trimming the fat but keeping the necessities.”

Photo by Calyse Tobias
Close up of new water meter – Photo by Calyse Tobias