Conservation Efforts Improve on Campus

With more than 800 acres of green space on campus, the U is known to be one of the heaviest water users in the state. In the past four years, U grounds crews have cut water use by 40 percent, but critics say there is still more room for conservation.

The state as a whole is in its fourth consecutive year of drought. Saturday, water officials announced that reservoir levels across the state are down by more than 12 percent from last year. Yesterday, Gov. Mike Leavitt said he will declare an official drought for southern and central eastern Utah, making farmers and ranchers eligible for federal low- or no-interest loans.

“Things are dry across the state. There is not a lot of water available,” said Sue Pope, U grounds department supervisor.

Weeks ago Leavitt urged residence, businesses and state agencies to avoid watering until after May 1, and then to water only during the evening and morning hours to avoid evaporation.

A column published in The Salt Lake Tribune, April 15, criticized the U for ignoring Leavitt’s suggestion to refrain from watering, claiming sprinklers had been on across campus.

Pope said the only time the watering systems have been on is when technicians were checking the lines for leaks or broken sprinkler heads.

“We do have exceptions though,” Pope said. “I do water my athletic fields as needed?usually once a week? to keep them soft so no one gets injured. It is a liability and safety issue. “

Another exception to the watering restrictions would be the greens and tee boxes of the U golf course.

But when May brings hotter temperatures, the U will be forced to turn the irrigation system on once a week.

“We are in a catch-22. If we don’t water at all and lose all of our greenery, we don’t have any money to restore it with,” Pope said.

In the late 1990s, U grounds officials took irrigation auditing workshops to learn methods of conservation.

Earl Jackson, a natural resource agent from Utah State University, said that the techniques learned in classes helped the U improve water conservation.

“In 1996, when we started measuring water waste on campus, the U used three times the amount of water it needed,” Jackson said.

Two years after the U received the conservation training, it cut water use by 40 percent.

At the same time, and after similar training, city parks were only able to reduce watering by 19 percent, he said.

“It has come a long way, but the U still uses more water than it should, but crews are doing a lot better,” Jackson said.

Campus plumbing reported that on average during winter months, the U uses 52 million gallons of water, but that number increases significantly to 130 gallons during summer months.

To avoid excessive water use the U also lays mulch in flower gardens and shrubbery to trap the moisture in the soil, protecting it from evaporation, Pope said.

And in recent years traditional flower beds have been transformed into native plant flower beds. These plants, Pope said, don’t require as much water and have adapted to the desert climate found in Utah, she said.

Flower beds near the HPER building and Arts and Architecture building are among those that have been converted to native plants.

“In the last 11 years we have learned a lot,” Pope said. “We used to water every day. We have had training and have cut down on watering. There are people here who care and are trying to make a difference.”

Pope says she plans to minimize watering this summer because of the drought. She estimates needing to water approximately every four days.

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