Campus groups pool efforts to save more water

As the drought continues, Cornell’s Residential Programs and the Office of Sustainability are launching “Energy Smackdown: Every Drop Counts,” a six-week conservation competition among residence halls.

The 2016 Energy Smackdown kicks off with Bowl in the Dark on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 10 p.m. to midnight at the Helen Newman Bowling Center. The event is open to the Cornell community. The Smackdown student competition, which focuses on residence halls, runs through Oct. 31, provides building energy and water use statistics through a dashboard website.

“The first few weeks of the competition will focus heavily on water conservation,” said Kimberly Barth Anderson, Balch residence hall director. “Turn off your lights and unplug everything that draws electricity before coming to the event, encourage friends and bowl in the dark,” she said.

On the water conservation front, Cornell’s Infrastructure Properties and Planning division has begun to replace wasteful showerheads in campus fitness facilities and residence halls.

“It’s critical to save water,” said Mark J. Howe, IPP’s campus energy manager. The university has been at a second-stage drought level and issued water use restrictions July 28. In spite of worsening drought conditions since students returned to campus Aug. 23, the university has remained at that level, thanks to targeted educational efforts in the residence halls and campus buildings.

In addition to educational efforts, the facilities group has installed 50 high-efficiency showerheads in Teagle Hall, one of the campus fitness centers. The old showerheads put out about 2.5 gallons per minute and the new ones, only 1.5 gallons per minute, using 25 to 40 percent less water. “It saves an incredible amount of water,” Howe said.

The new showerheads feature a “soap and soak” pause valve that squeezes out even more water savings. “The pause valve allows you to temporarily pause water flow while soaping up and then return to the flow instantly to rinse off,” said Howe.

In the next month, IPP will replace all 1,687 showerheads in on-campus undergraduate and graduate student housing to reduce campus water use by more than 21,000 gallons per day, explained Howe. “That’s the equivalent water savings for 2,100 households,” he said.

In addition to 50 shower heads in Teagle, the Helen Newman Hall about 30 showers will be upgraded, saving the university 3,000 gallons of water every day in the fitness facilities.

Said Howe: “While we have some up-front costs, the new showerheads will pay for themselves quickly and save a heroic amount of water.”

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John Carberry