As the dry conditions in Austin continue, UT is making an ongoing effort to conserve water through major changes to its irrigation system.
Markus Hogue, UT’s irrigation and water conservation coordinator, gave a presentation of UT’s recent water conservation efforts to the Central Texas Water Efficiency Network on Thursday. The network is a group of municipalities, water providers and conservation advocates in the Austin area that includes UT, Austin Water and Austin I.S.D. among its members.
“In a time of drought, everybody’s watching what we are using with water. We need to be good users of our water source,” Hogue said. “When people see green, they think ‘water waste.’ We want to prove that we can keep a green campus but do other things to conserve.”
Hogue said despite the recent rain, drought is still a major issue for the area and water conservation is especially important.
“We don’t know how long it’s going to last. These rains that we had have not filled up the lakes in our area. We’re having to find alternative sources of water,” Hogue said. “Everybody’s coming to Texas. The prices of water are skyrocketing. Our goal to help keep our water source down is by conserving.”
Hogue highlighted the upgrades to the University’s irrigation system. The new automated system, which cost $2.1 million, has reduced irrigation usage by 66 percent and saved 90 to 100 million gallons of water. One of the main features of the new system is the central management. Unlike before, Hogue can now control the system directly from his computer or handheld device. Furthermore, the system alerts the computer when a sprinkle break has occurred and water is leaking out. This feature has saved more than 9 million gallons alone. Some other changes include new nozzles and controllers that have been installed across the campus.
Xeriscaping, pronounced zero-scaping, is a type of landscaping that focuses on saving water through limited plant material, which has also been implemented.
However, according to Mark Jordan, Austin Water conservation program coordinator, the irrigation system is not the only major change in the University’s effort to conserve water.
“Irrigation is only part of the story,” Jordan said. “They’ve done an amazing job to retrofit indoor equipment and use reclaimed water.”
Reclaimed water is recycled water that comes from wastewater treatment plants. Instead of being sent to the Colorado River, this highly-treated water has started to be used for nondrinking purposes by the university. Austin Water and UT connected a chilling station on campus to the city’s reclaimed water system in March.
At the meeting, Hogue also gave a tour of the Belo Center as an example of some the efforts made by the University. He said he plans to continue to improve water conservation on campus.