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Campus curbs water use but 'still needs diligence'

Drought toilet paper
Karli Buday/Residence Life
To remind students to reduce water use, the townhouse residence hall staff uses nontraditional messaging methods, such as neon fluorescent labels placed on toilet paper wrapping.

As students and faculty get deeper into fall semester, Cornell remains in a drought with second-stage water restrictions, and conserving water has become more important than ever.

“The forecast is for dry conditions through the latter part of September, so as a campus we still need to be diligent conserving water,” said Christopher Bordlemay, Cornell’s water and wastewater manager.

Bordlemay said Cornell and the surrounding area are in a “green drought,” where flowers and lawns still look healthy, but there is no replenishment to stream flows or groundwater. “It’s tough to convince people that we’re in the middle of a bad drought, when everything looks green and beautiful,” he said.

Bordlemay said that at this time of year Fall Creek, which supplies Cornell’s water, ordinarily carries 30 cubic feet of water per second and now is at 17 cubic feet per second. And as the four-week forecast sees no appreciable rain, Bordlemay said, “We could be getting close to the minimal flow we need.”

Six Mile Creek, which feeds the city of Ithaca’s reservoir, currently has a 4.4 cubic feet-per-second flow, and the city is withdrawing 4 cubic feet per second from its reservoir.

Check your water usage
In this drought, the Energy and Sustainability group in Infrastructure, Properties and Planning have developed a Check Your Water Usage website where the Cornell community can check water usage in many campus buildings.

“The website won’t have all buildings, as some buildings have underground water meters or they are inaccessible,” said Sarah Brylinsky, sustainability communications and integration manager. “Most people on campus should be able to see their residence hall, laboratory or a familiar building in which they spend time and have the chance to reduce water usage.”

Said Brylinsky: “We hope the Cornell community can see the results of their efforts to reduce water use in the first few weeks of the fall semester. This tool can be useful to ensure that we maintain those water savings.”

In late August, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Drought Monitor changed Tompkins County’s status from severe to extreme, the fourth level of drought harshness. On Aug. 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 15 counties in New York – including Tompkins – as a primary natural disaster area due to farm losses caused by a recent drought.

One of the drought’s bright spots is cooperation among Cornell students, faculty and staff. As students returned to campus, the university achieved a 30 percent reduction in water use for the first week of classes versus historical flows, according to Sarah Brylinsky, Cornell’s sustainability communications and integration manager.

In residence halls, professional and student staff reminded residents of ways to curb water use. Signs remind students to turn off faucets and to use cold water. “It’s a constant topic of conversation,” said Kim Anderson, Balch residence hall director.

For the townhouse units on North Campus, there are 79 apartments for 306 students. Karli Buday, residence hall director, and her staff passed out suction-cup shower timers and used nontraditional advertising methods for a variety of messages on neon fluorescent labels placed on toilet paper wrapping. Reminded one of the toilet paper messages: “You have the power to take shorter showers.” 

Media Contact

Melissa Osgood