Water, and our ability to access it, is often taken for granted.
While sustainable trends are on the rise, swimming pools and green lawns are still commonplace in Southern California. But the hard truth is that in Southern California water is among our most precious resources and, if we’re not careful, it could become increasingly scarce.
That last fact was hammered home during California’s drought of 2011-14. Even after the dry spell ended – the most severe in the state’s history – it took three years for the state to receive enough precipitation to break out from the prolonged water shortage.
The drought experience led many public institutions and facilities to reexamine the way water was used, recycled and conserved. Cal State Long Beach undertook its own effort to save money and resources, while aiming for a more sustainable campus. Cal State Long Beach’s water action plan previously was recognized by the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference.
“Water conservation is an issue that is always at the forefront of our minds here in California, and our Beach Building Services team is always looking for opportunities to conserve this limited resource and save the university money in the process,” said Sustainability Coordinator Holli Fajack.
Through a combination of strategic water reuse, landscaping, computerized irrigation and infrastructure improvements, the campus has re-engineered the way it not only uses water but also delivers it to key locations.
“Right now, the majority of north campus is using reclaimed water for landscaping purposes, and the other half is still using potable water,” said Joshua Cichuniec, director of Facilities Management. “And we’re working toward our goal of using completely reclaimed water across the entire campus. Being able to do that is dependent on infrastructure improvements, but we’re committed to the plan and can see the day when it’s a reality – and that’s not far off.”
In addition to new and improved delivery systems, the Beach Building Services (BBS) team uses 71 satellites located around the campus, Cichuniec said.
“We monitor the system daily, and as a result of reports on evapotranspiration, weather reports and a number of other factors, our computerized irrigation systems are reprogrammed every night for optimal water usage,” he added.
In conjunction with campus irrigation strategies, designers and landscapers have created areas called “bioswales,” which look like naturally occurring channels that capture, concentrate and direct stormwater runoff while removing debris and pollution. Even the design of one of the newer campus parking lots (E8) allows for water to drain and percolate back into the water table.
Water usage at Cal State Long Beach, however, extends beyond watering lawns, athletics/playing fields and decorative planters. The installation of upgraded plumbing fixtures, including low-water flow urinals, shower head restrictors and efficient fixtures in housing and the Student Recreation and Wellness Center are saving money, too. The BBS team has even found that using recycled instead of potable water in campus cooling towers makes a significant contribution to sustainability efforts.
“What our team is doing is more than just saving water,” Scott Apel, vice president for Administration and Finance. “Our team is approaching the challenges around water usage in a very thoughtful way. We’re not just looking at quality and delivery, which have always been the chief concerns when it comes to water but also how to reuse, repurpose and replenish. Because of our climate, geography and demand, it’s a tall order.
“But our team has taken on the challenges and found creative solutions – like using recycled instead of drinking water in the cooling towers – that move the university closer to its sustainability goals and toward the best use of our most precious resource.”