UT conserves water amidst the ongoing water management change in Austin

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As the City of Austin and Austin Water assemble Water Forward, a 100-year water management plan for Austin, UT continues to include water conservation efforts in campus expansion.

Austin supplies UT with more than 800 million gallons of water per year. The Belo Center for New Media and the Dell Medical School both received new cisterns, rain water storing devices, when they were built, and UT plans to add cisterns to more new buildings, said Jim Walker, UT director of sustainability. 

“A lot of the newer buildings will have cisterns just as part of the building program and that lets us use rain water instead of drinking water for irrigation,” Walker said.

UT recovers water that is used for cooling laboratory equipment, swimming pool drain water, groundwater and air conditioning condensation through a water recovery program that’s been in place since the 1980s. These measures have enabled the University to recycle more than 1.3 billion gallons of water since the program’s inception.

There are three main demands for water on campus: chilling stations, irrigation and building use, Walker said. 

“We’ve been going to digital controls on irrigation and more efficient sprinkler heads and we have rain gages on campus, so that we only use water when we need to and that has saved us hundreds of millions of gallons of water over the years,” Walker said. “As we grow, as we keep adding new buildings, we try to keep all of those practices going.”

Outside of the University utilities, UT has helped with water conservation by providing renewable water bottles to all freshmen said Sara Scheffler, international business and sustainability studies freshman.

“I think that’s awesome because it keeps people from using plastic water bottles because the University gives you a free reusable water bottle to use for your next four years,” Scheffler said.

Marketing senior Erinn Wright, president of Well Aware at UT, an organization that seeks to raise awareness of global water issues, said she hopes her fellow students work to reduce their own water usage.

“Water is not as abundant as you might think it is,” Wright said. “It’s projected that by 2025 over 50 percent of the world will be living in water scarce areas, so I think the biggest issue is that people just aren’t paying as much attention to it, so there’s not as much movement toward sustainability efforts.”