Markus Hogue

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

As speculation circulates that a strain of maroon bluebonnets sprouting on campus is a result of a Texas A&M prank, University officials have decided to have the Aggie-colored flowers removed, according to Markus Hogue, program coordinator for Irrigation and Water Conservation.

Hogue said no one from A&M or UT has come forward to take responsibility for planting the maroon bluebonnets.

“The more information I receive regarding the maroon bluebonnets, the more I feel that we have been pranked by an Aggie,” Hogue said. “[Jerry] Parsons and Greg Grant from A&M created the maroon color. Dr. Parsons said … that the maroon color is a recessive trait, and that the blue color will take over the landscape beds. I have noticed each year that the maroon color has grown in size, which means someone is adding more seeds each year.”

Parsons, a former horticulturist at A&M, said the maroon bluebonnet variant came about as a mistake. He also said the flowers’ presence on the UT campus was not a deliberate affront to the school.

“They are not a prank but rather a seed mix-up during packaging by the producer,” Parsons said.

Government junior Will Griffin, who is also a member of Texas Cowboys, one of the University’s spirit groups, said he does not feel offended on behalf of the University.

“I don’t feel slighted,” Griffin said. “I find it funny that, if it is a prank, Aggie students come all this way and disrespect our state flower just to put some maroon on the Texas campus.”

Hogue said University officials have decided to remove the flowers — although a date for removal is still undecided — because of threats of student interference.

“A few students have stated that, if we do not remove them, they will take it upon themselves to remove them,” Hogue said. “We hope this does not happen, since we want to collect the seeds and limit the chance of more growing next year.”

Hogue said, if students pull out the flowers themselves, the variant could still reproduce from seeds left in the ground.

Business sophomore Lindsey Lunden, who is in Texas Sweethearts, a spirit group on campus, said the alleged prank is far from an Aggie victory.

“While the flowers are an unappealing color, the Aggies are going to have to do a lot more than just planting flowers to take away even a little bit of my school pride,” Lunden said.

Despite its usual effort to conserve water by keeping the campus fountains off, UT will be running the LBJ fountain for the duration of the Civil Rights Summit. 

Photo Credit: Marshall Tidrick | Daily Texan Staff

While Austin is under stage two watering restrictions, the University, which is not required to follow city ordinances, will run the LBJ Fountain through the Civil Rights Summit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Since 2012, the city has been in stage two, which restricts the owners of multi-family residential, commercial or city municipal facilities to watering one day per week in the early morning or late evening.

According to Laurie Lentz, UT business and financial services communications manager, when the city went into watering restrictions, the University decided to adhere to these regulations voluntarily.

“UT is considered a state entity and does not have to adhere to city ordinances,” Lentz said. “Nowadays, the state entities go along with what the city entities are doing, but they are not actually bound to that.”

Lentz said there are 14 decorative fountains on campus. Three fountains — LBJ Fountain, Littlefield Fountain and East Mall Fountain — operate 24/7 for filtering purposes with no spray features. Lentz said if the University turned on the spray features regularly, it would lose 300,000 gallons of water a month, which would require added water. 

Jill Mayfield, Austin Water Utility spokeswoman, said the University typically follows city ordinances and conserves water.

“UT does a great job of really working with us even though they don’t have to by law,” Mayfield said. “I know the Civil Rights Summit is a huge event, and they want to look nice.”

Markus Hogue, UT’s irrigation and water conservation program manager, said his department has also had to do a lot of work on the LBJ Library lawn in preparation for summit.

Hogue said new flowers have been planted, beds have been cleaned out and new mulch has been laid down. Although establishing new turf requires more watering, Hogue said the grass does not require more water than usual.

“Now all that mulch [gets]rainfall stores, so when I irrigate that area, I don’t have to run it as long because I don’t have to worry about not [having] the moisture in the ground,” Hogue said. “It holds on to it better.”

According to Hogue, in 2012 the University used around 75 million gallons of water to irrigate, which was almost a 100 million gallon reduction after $2.1 million were used in 2011 to install new nozzles and controllers to regulate how much water was being used.

The University now uses a rainwater collection system at the Belo Center for New Media for irrigation. Hogue said half a million gallons of rainwater was collected last year, which allowed the University to use less fresh drinking water to maintain the landscape.

According to Hunter Mangrum, Division of Housing and Food Service environmental specialist, the University’s residence halls have even taken steps to become more environmentally friendly on campus. Mangrum said the University has its own stages for watering restrictions depending on the amount of water in the rain collection tanks at the two residence hall gardens.

If the garden tanks fall below 30 percent full, the watering schedule is reduced to each bed, which receives 15 minute watering cycles two times per week.

“The city is in stage two, and we do comply with that as much as possible, and in fact, the watering systems for those gardens are totally self sufficient,” Mangrum said.

Hunter Mangrum, the environmentalist specialist for the Division of Housing and Food Services, describes their rain-water reuse system that was constructed outside of Jester West last September. The water is specifically used for a garden that provides food for student consumption, as well as educating students on methods of reusing natural resources.

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

As drought conditions continue to worsen, the University is in the process of expanding its water conservation efforts by targeting dorm residents’ water usage.

Markus Hogue, UT’s irrigation and water conservation coordinator, said while state legislators are considering water conservation policies, the University already has several water-saving technologies in place, including an irrigation system that reduced water usage by 66 percent in 2013. The drought will develop, persist or intensify in the majority of Texas at least through May, according to the National Weather Service.

“Luckily for UT, they saw it,” Hogue said. “They saw the writing on the wall, and they started preparing for it. The timing couldn’t have been better. We put [the system] in right when we needed it the most.”

The University’s irrigation system detects breaks and automatically turns the system off. Hogue said that feature alone saved 10 percent, or 10 million gallons, of the system’s overall usage in 2012. A system program uses live weather data, including factors such as sunlight and humidity, to determine how much water is needed.

Hunter Mangrum, an environmental specialist at the University, said UT has installed retrofits — new features that are compatible with existing systems — in dormitories with the hope of using less water. In some bath areas, Mangrum said, shower and light timers and low-flow toilets, urinals, shower heads and faucets were installed. 

Mangrum said the water-saving techniques the University can implement in older buildings may be limited.

“We still have major hurdles, and a lot of times that has to do with how buildings are built and everything that we try to pack into a building,” Mangrum said. “That’s not just a UT problem. That’s a global problem.”

Hogue said the University has saved water by changing the outdoor landscape surrounding the buildings. According to Hogue, the University’s landscaping master plan will allow the University to include more drought-resistant plants.

“Students suggested, ‘Let’s change out the landscape, so we changed out the landscape,’” Hogue said. “We put in plants that are used to the Texas weather and used to the Texas environment — huge water reduction.”

Mangrum said he thinks student input is important to making water conservation a priority on campus.

“What I would like to see in three years [or] five years are students consciously thinking about when they turn on a sink faucet and how long it’s on for,” Mangrum said. “Even a bigger dream than that is that students have so much buy-in that they are creating the new technologies.”

Hogue said he’s working on a project that will have real-time data of the water usage of every building and area on campus, and he is working with other universities and associations who are interested in making similar changes.

“Not only are we saving [water] on campus, but think of the impact we’re having on our community [by] spreading the word,” Hogue said.

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.

UT’s irrigation system is conserving millions of gallons of water and helping increase efficiency after an upgrade last year.

The system has helped reduce the University’s water use for irrigation by 66 percent, although it was only projected to save 57 percent, according to Markus Hogue, irrigation and water conservation coordinator.           

Last year the irrigation system updated 18,000 sprinkler nozzles and 108 controllers monitoring the campus water use, to keep track of usage and collect data from areas on campus to make modifications to the system which measures evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is the amount of moisture in the soil lost to wind, sunlight and temperature changes. This allows the system to calculate the amount of time needed for water to run to replenish the water lost.

“We don’t over water. We don’t under water. We put back what has been pulled out,” Hogue said.

The system also accounts for rainfall. When the campus received two inches of rainfall this past week, the system measured how much water was replaced and reduced the amount of water added back through irrigation. 

Hogue said last year the campus saved 10 million gallons because the system can detect unusually high-pressure flow, typically caused by broken sprinkler heads. On average, 125 sprinkler heads break monthly.

“Before, on the old system, these things could continue to happen for a month or two until one of our irrigators that was going through that system saw, flagged it and repaired it,” Hogue said. “Now, within a minute or two we know about it and we’re able to shut it off.”

Hogue said the time saved by the system allows the irrigation team to modify the system and handle other issues affecting plant growth such as worms and making water available for squirrels that may otherwise damage the system.

Jacob Johnson, the City of Austin’s water conservation specialist, said the University is part of a four-year pilot program to conserve water by allowing commercial properties a water budget instead of restricted hours for watering. The budget is affected by drought conditions, and will be reduced if the drought worsens.

Johnson said although the University is not required to follow city water restrictions as a state-owned property, it has abided by the program’s budget and provided the city with useful data on how the efficient system helps save water.

“Over the last year, they have been very successful,” Johnson said.  “UT is one of our largest customers in water use. If a large customer with a lot of outdoor water use like UT can make significant reductions, that’s a pretty big impact on our system.”

Facilities Service manager John Burns said the program allowed the University to water throughout the week, while abiding with the water restricted hours mid-day. Normally the city only allows watering on specific days.

“We’re watering more days a week but putting less water out on those days. If we had to water all in one day it would be really impossible,” Burns said.

Hogue said the system is expected to continue to reduce water usage as they continue making modifications.

UT landscapers are looking towards xeriscaping, a process in which landscapers replace grass with low-water plants or stone to reduce the usage of water needed to maintain the gardens.

Photo Credit: Yamel Thompson | Daily Texan Staff

Walking to class, students might see more pebbles and agave plants and fewer grassy areas along buildings as UT landscapers are opting for more native Texas plants and low water-use landscaping to reduce irrigation water use.

Facilities Services manager John Burns said with an ongoing drought and city water restrictions, landscapers are trying to keep the University’s gardening attractive without wasting water on upkeep by using low-water native and adapted plants that do well in this climate.

Burns said they are also xeriscaping, which replaces grass with stone or rocks and desert-type plants that need minimal water.

“They will survive longer with less water,” Burns said. “Being native or adapted they already use less water than other plants but they still need some extra.”

Markus Hogue, irrigation and water conservation coordinator, said at least six areas on campus are using xeriscaping techniques to cut irrigation to a fraction of previous water use.

“We’re collecting data and finding high water use areas. We changed out the landscaping so that it doesn’t require as much water as before,” Hogue said. “We’re putting in drought tolerant material that is able to survive the environment.”

The area outside of the Harry Ransom Center is one of the areas xeriscaped. Facilities worked with the Green Fee Committee, a program that awards funds to student led environmental science projects on campus.

Karen Blaney, Sustainability Operations assistant manager and Green Free program coordinator, said the student plans for xeriscaping the center were implemented by UT landscapers. Blaney said about 10 percent of the project proposals submitted aim to conserve water use.

“Students had the idea to change the area near Harry Ransom, which wasn’t very attractive and the Green Fee project beautified that space,” Blaney said.

Blaney said the program is working with students toward a plan to revitalize the area around Bass Concert Hall and make it a low water use landscape. Hogue said the trees also help cut costs.

“Our trees hold the moisture underneath it, so we were able to start pulling back certain areas that were being over watered. We’re trying to be efficient,” Hogue said.

Burns said most of the trees in the center of campus were planted in the 1930s, and keeping them healthy is important for the visual appeal and protection from the sun.

Burns said with another hot summer expected to worsen the Texas drought conditions and potentially reduce the University’s water budget from the city, maintaining irrigation water for the trees on campus will be his main priority.

“It could be bad this year,” Burns said. “We will take as many heroic steps as we need to try to maintain our trees. That will be our focus and watering those can help the landscape around them. Most of the trees on campus are native trees, but in nature we’re losing native trees because of this extended drought, so we still have to put additional water on them.”

Program Coordinator of Irrigation and Water Conservation Markus Hogue mages the irrigation system spanning across 125 acres of campus. It is the largest water-conserving irrigation system in the United States.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Markus Hogue can turn on any sprinkler on campus with a few clicks from his office in Facilities Complex Building 8. At his desk, Hogue can watch as water data comes in, something he can spend six hours of the day doing. Hogue has spent the last year helping install and program a new campus-wide irrigation system that went live this April. The system is a one of the kind in the United States. New data released Friday shows the University saving 3.8 million gallons of water in the three months since, something that has attracted the attention of the city of Forth Worth, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But Hogue says he is not a celebrity. At least not yet.

To address costly issues of water conservation, as well as breaks and non-existent communication methods in the prior watering system, the University changed its watering methods in April with the completion of a central irrigation system. This new system has the ability to track gallon usage, detect breaks, keep track of rainfall and track water evaporation as it happens. It can be operated and monitored from either a single computer, a smartphone or a remote control — things the old irrigation system could not do. And because of these features the new system has saved millions of gallons of water along with hours of manpower.

“It is unbelievable,” said Hogue, who is UT’s program coordinator of Irrigation and Water Conservation. “It is telling me everything.”

This new central irrigation system is being used in part with a pilot program with the city of Austin. The pilot program is allowing properties to water within a water budget instead of specified days and times. Properties have less restrictions on when they can water — as long as they stay within these water budgets.

Jacob Johnson, Austin’s conservation program specialist, said the city is currently working with 16 different properties including the University, but hopes to expand to 90 by the end of the two-year pilot program. Johnson also said the current assigned water budgets were set at 15 percent less than what they would normally be because of the drought. But Hogue said the University was still watering under budget thanks to both the new central irrigation system and rainfall in early May.

Since the project’s completion, the irrigation systems are currently checked daily instead of monthly. With the new system, Hogue said the University has benefited in both research and conservation.

“It’s one of the top-of-the-line systems out right now,” Hogue said. “In the state there are a few places using a central system. But nobody is using them to what we’re doing. We’re actually collecting data, sharing it with places and trying to help conserve.”

Hogue said his favorite feature of the new irrigation system is its ability to detect high flows when more water is coming out of a zone than the computer expects there to be.

“In the old system, it wouldn’t have shut off,” Hogue said. For hours, water could leak from sprinklers before ever being detected. “Now, it immediately shuts off the zone, flags it and lets me know.”

In the event of a high flow, the system detects it immediately, shuts off the zone and sends out an alert to Hogue.

Hogue said this is an important part of the system considering how much foot traffic the campus gets.

“We have 75,000 people walk on campus almost every day during the [fall and spring],” Hogue said. “They kick [sprinkler] heads, they run over stuff, damage gets done. So that’s why that flow system is such a vital aspect.”

Hogue said the ability for the system to detect flow control has saved the University approximately $27,000 in its first three months. And that is just the flow control feature. In March and Apil, Hogue said there were 330 high flow alerts, which would have cost the University 2.6 million gallons of water if it were not for the new system.

The system is also able to determine how much water is needed based on climate. The system has two Evapotranspiration Detectors (ETs) that measure how much water is being evaporated from the soil due to wind and heat factors.

“That amount comes into the program and it either gives us more water or less water based on what is the actual need, making the system more efficient,” Hogue said. “We’re saving a bunch off that.”

For example, most sprinkler systems are set to run on certain time intervals. But with the ETs, the central irrigation system can run as long or as short as it needs to. Hogue said Facilities Services will not know exactly how much is being saved from ET data until a full season is complete.

Three rain buckets on campus operate within the new irrigation system as well and Hogue said the buckets are doing more than just measuring rainfall. They are calculating how much water the soil is receiving by rainfall and determining how much less water needs to be put out by the irrigation system.

“So say we get an inch of rain in one hour,” Hogue said. “The ground can only absorb 20 percent of that. So the program goes through and only takes 20 percent of that one inch, and it uses it to calculate it into the system and says: ‘Okay, we’re going to run half an inch that day, we already got .2 inches already down, we only need to water for .3 more.’”

Hogue said more than 18,000 sprinkler heads were changed, making a switch to a rotator-type nozzle, which waters more slowly and results in less runoff and waste.

“The nozzels are gorgeous to watch, I love them, they are mesmerizing,” Hogue said. “There is almost no misting in these; you are wasting no water in it.”

When it comes to benefiting from the system, Luis Garza Jr., Assistant Manager of Irrigation and Installation, said irrigation managers have to stay within their assigned budgets.

“The only way you can make this work and save water is you got to have a budget, you got to have a timeline and you have to stick with it,” Garza said. “And you have to monitor it. You can’t just use it as an on and off button.”

Hogue said he is trying to promote the central irrigation system to institutions who may benefit. Along with receiving calls about the system, Hogue has been asked to serve as a health and service alternate on the Texas Advisory of Water Council.

“This thing is an easy retrofit to any system out there, to get it on when one person can manage and watch it,” Hogue said. “One person could manage all the parts in the state of Texas. They could sit at one computer and manage all the parts, and then send reports out to the guys in the field.”

But Hogue said they are not just using this information to report back to the city, but are sharing it with others and hoping systems like UT’s will be adopted elsewhere.

“We want people to know about this so they can work on their systems and save water,” Hogue said. “If we take all this knowledge and keep it to ourselves, we’re not bettering anyone.”

But it hasn’t been picked up elsewhere. At least, not yet.