Starting a Water-Saving Journey

Now that colleges and universities are back in session, many campuses are grappling with a problem that just won’t go away: water. While many parts of the western half of the U.S. are now out of the woods, so to speak, when it comes to droughts and water shortages, anyone thinking water concerns are a thing of the past is sorely mistaken.

In schools, homes and commercial facilities of all types, we can expect water, and more importantly, ways to use water more efficiently, to become an increasingly important concern. Because of this college administrators must begin their water saving journey now.

How can administrators help reduce water consumption? Here are several ways. We have broken them down into the following sections:
  • No-cost measures. Be sure and read these first.
  • Low-cost measures.
  • Medium-cost measures.
  • High-cost measures. Something tells me these will be last on your reading list.

Let’s begin.

No-Cost Measures
  • Get staff involved. Create a “water savers” team that looks for leaks, running taps, leaky toilets and urinals, etc. The flush handles of water-using urinals tend to take a beating on many campuses, which can cause malfunctions and waste water.
  • Educate students on how to take a “military shower.” Turn shower heads off when water is not needed; for instance, when soaping down. But also tell students not to turn controls on and off too hard. This weakens washers, causing leaks. 
  • Encourage groundskeepers to avoid overwatering vegetation; water the base of plants, not the tops of the plants or the leaves; remove weeds as soon as they are detected; start removing non-native vegetation, invariably these plans use more water than native plants; and never clear walkways with water, use a broom.
Low-Cost Measures
  • Aerators, aerators, aerators. Every faucet throughout all campus facilities, as well as showerheads, should have aerators installed. Aerators can be purchased by the case and are inexpensive.
  • Have posters made reminding students and staff the importance of reducing water consumption.
  • Install tamper-proof water taps in outdoor locations.
  • If facilities are used after hours or on weekends, install locks on bathroom doors, limiting the number of restrooms available for use (this also helps cut down on potential misuse).
  • Install water displacement devices in older toilets; these will limit the amount of water released per flush.
  • Test toilets for leaks. It’s simple. Just put a couple of drops of food coloring in the tank; wait 15 minutes and then check the bowl. If it is now colored, you have a leak.
  • Add one to two inches of mulch around all outdoor plants.
Medium-Cost Measures
  • Install motion sensors on faucets, toilets and water-using urinals; these are designed to not only release water only when needed, but many regulate the amount of water released. If a large number of sensors must be purchased, this can quickly become a high-cost measure. Note: Administrators should review several types of sensor-controlled or “hands-free” devices before making a selection. Not all are the same; some are designed for very heavy use while others are not. Some are more sensitive to dust and soiling build up, causing them to malfunction. Also, they should be installed by experts. Installation can be tricky.
  • Install water-efficient, Energy Star-approved dishwashers in food service areas. Before 1994, most dishwashers used 10 or more gallons per cycle. Energy Star dishwashers use five gallons or less.

High-Cost Measures
Before venturing into higher-cost measures, we must mention that while these can be costly expenditures, they can contribute to reducing water consumption significantly and help mitigate increased water costs in the future.

Let’s look at toilets, urinals, cooling systems and other mechanics. Eventually they will need to be replaced. That can be the best time to consider high-cost measures such as the following:
  • Replace all toilets and urinals more than 10 years old with high-efficient, low-flow systems; very often these fixtures use less water than is federally mandated.
  • No-water urinals are popular not only in western states with chronic water shortages but also across the country, because they not only eliminate water consumption entirely, but also cost less to select and install.
  • Install water shutoff systems so that, for instance, water delivered to all restrooms in specific areas of a facility can be turned off at the same time.
  • Install rainwater collection tanks; this water can be used for outdoor irrigation.
  • Install multiple water meters; this way, if water consumption has gone up, which is often the result of leaks, it is easier to track down the leak.

The most important thing to do when it comes to reducing water consumption is to just start. Once an active water-reduction strategy is put into place, it typically opens the door to finding more and more ways to reduce consumption. Begin with the no-cost measures. As the savings come in, they will energize your water-savings journey.

About the Author

A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt is founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc.(, based in Vista, CA. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water efficiency in mind. The company manufactures restroom and plumbing-related products.