40 Important Ways That Colleges Are Conserving Water

Schools are changing the way laundry is done on campus, including buying efficient washers, educating students and reusing rinse water. Tyler Olson/Shutterstock

Water is a precious resource, and although it flows freely from the tap, it’s not infinite. Green campus lawns, clean cafeteria plates, and even air conditioned dorms don’t happen without using lots of water. As major institutions, colleges are serious users of water, and although some don’t yet recognize the need to conserve water, many of them do. In fact, college campuses are home to some of the most innovative ideas for water conservation, implementing water management technology, smart conservation policies and more. Read on to find out about 40 great ways colleges are putting great minds to work on water conservation.

1. I Heart Tap Water

C-Berkeley’s I Heart Tap Water campaign promoted tap water as the beverage of choice for the campus. The university credits the campaign’s success to the testing of more than 450 water fountains on campus to ensure water quality. The program has reduced usage of plastic water bottles on campus by at least 25 percent.

Water springs out of a drinking fountain
Water fountains are a great way to reduce the amount of plastic water bottles on campuses. JoePhilipson/flickr

2. Cutting Back on Car Washing

Colleges use many vehicles on and off campus, and those vehicles need to be washed, but not frequently. Schools like the University of Washington have cut back on car washing in their motor pools to save water.

3. Using Campus Resources

Large campuses may have access to creeks and wells on their land. At Stanford University, almost 75 percent of water used for irrigation comes from water sourced on Stanford’s own land.

4. Installing Water Misers

Schools like Stanford have used water misers on autoclaves in the Medical School and research buildings. Instead of having water running 24 hours a day on the devices, misers sense when the water is needed and when it is not. This measure alone has helped to reduce water usage in these buildings by over 50 percent.

5. Landscaping With Drought-Tolerant Plants

At St. Mary’s College, drought-tolerant plants have been put in place, including oleander, lavender and nandina, with drought-tolerant plants making up about 95 percent of campus plants.

Field of lavender sprigs
Lavender is a drought-tolerant plant that can help college campuses have gorgeous landscapes and cut down on water usage. Laura Smith/flickr

6. Cal State-LA Technology

Using a wireless water management service, Cal State-LA was able to lower its water bills and reduce water usage by about 27 million gallons in 18 months. The system also saves valuable staff time and adjusts to weather changes, turning off water before it rains.

7. A New Low Flow Standard

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education reports that low flow showerheads and faucets, as well as low water volume toilets and urinals, are standard practice for U.S. colleges.

8. Dual Flush Toilets

In addition to low flow toilets, colleges like Harvard are also using dual flush toilets, which allow toilets to use less water unless deemed necessary by their users.

9. Recycling Carpet

Carpet doesn’t sound like a big water waster, but Oberlin College has calculated its savings from recycling carpet. By recycling 177,057 square feet of used carpet, it has saved 112,136.1 gallons of water, in addition to 1.2 billion BTUs of energy.

Black shoes on a red and white carpet with an abstract floral design
Recycling carpet can be a huge water and energy saver for colleges. Sarah-Rose/flickr

10. Educating Students

At UC-Santa Cruz, students arriving on campus will learn about water conservation in their orientation meetings, and the campus offers dorm room usage audits as well.

11. Recirculating Systems

Coolers and other equipment using once-through water cooling systems are being replaced with ones that reuse cooled water, saving not only water, but electricity and gas as well.

12. Water Wise House Call

Stanford University has recognized that university water usage doesn’t end off campus. Faculty and staff have their impact in private homes as well. With the Water Wise House Call program, the university has been able to manage water usage off campus by providing information and resources to faculty and staff.

13. Going Trayless

Many colleges are ditching trays in their cafeterias, cutting food waste, conserving water, and even keeping the "freshman 15" off new students. At Williams College alone, the college is saving 14,000 gallons of water each year by eliminating trays at one of four campus dining halls.

Plates, bowls, glasses, and mugs on pink shelves
Washing trays uses extra water in college cafeterias, so some colleges are ditching the trays. topnatthapon/Shutterstock

14. The Living Machine

At Oberlin College, students get involved in wastewater cleaning with The Living Machine. The machine processes wastewater into reusable graywater by relying on natural cleaning methods in wetlands, including plants and bacteria.

15. Green Campus Grounds With Reclaimed Water

At the University of California Santa Barbara, 90 percent of campus grounds are kept green using reclaimed water. This water is also used to flush toilets in some buildings. Reclaimed water is wastewater that has undergone a treatment process, but does not meet standards for drinking.

16. Natural Thawing

Some schools previously thawed food using running water. Instead, colleges like Evergreen State have implemented better planning, and are able to thaw all food products naturally without the use of running water.

17. Removing Bottled Water

Instead of allowing bottled water as an option at campus events and at dining facilities, colleges like Harvey Mudd College are selling or providing refillable water bottles to faculty, staff and students.

A collection of aluminium water bottles
Refillable, reusable water bottles cut down on plastic waste at college campuses. Juan Aunion/Shutterstock

18. Leak Detection Technology

Some schools employ water conservation technology that includes leak detection, allowing them to identify and correct leaks that exist on campus.

19. Updated Laundry Rooms

Colleges are upgrading to high efficiency front loading washers, and becoming even more energy efficient by using technology that allows them to monitor the status of the machines. At Canisius College, 755,638 gallons of water have been saved since 2006.

20. Using Cisterns

Colleges are using cisterns to harvest rainwater. At Harford Community College, rooftop runoff is captured in an 80,000-gallon cistern to use in an evaporative cooling tower.

21. Recycling Rooftop Rainwater

Drexel University turns rainwater into a resource rather than waste. Instead of sending it down the pipes to treatment plants, Drexel collects rainwater for nonpotable uses, including toilet flushing, landscaping and gardening.

A sign declaring the use of rain water
Collecting and using rain water can be help colleges use less water from other sources. Louisa Billeter/flickr

22. Leak Reporting

Dripping faucets can waste more than 600 gallons a year, and running toilets waste more than 131,000 gallons. On many college campuses, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to report any leaks that they see. Doing so can alert the maintenance staff to undiscovered sources of water waste that can be resolved easily.

23. Smart Flushing

In addition to low flow and dual flush toilets, schools are updating with automatic eye flushers. These toilets flush according to the length of time a person is sitting on it, with a 1.1 gallon flush for less than 65 seconds, and 1.6 for 65 seconds or more.

24. Increased Irrigation Ponds

Duke University is taking advantage of more natural water storage by increasing the size of irrigation ponds on its golf course. This water can be used for toilets, landscaping and more.

25. Laundry Education

Tufts reminds students to practice sustainable laundry techniques. Using a flyer, students are educated on using cold water options for washing clothing.

A woman holds a basket of laundry
Doing your own laundry is a rite of passage for many college students, so it's good to to show them how to do it properly. Tomasz Trojanowski/Shutterstock

26. Water Free Urinals

Many colleges, including Vanderbilt University, are installing water-free urinals, which do not flush. Instead, the urinals use liquid chemicals and gravity, saving up to 40,000 gallons of water each year.

27. Water Use Monitoring

Enhancing awareness of water usage can help conservation efforts, making those who consume water more careful in their usage. Several colleges, including UC-Santa Cruz, have shared water use data publicly and within the community to spotlight conservation of water.

28. Watering at Night

At lots of schools, watering was completed manually during the daytime, but more recently, colleges have implemented smart irrigation systems that water during the evening or early morning hours, saving evaporation as well as overspray.

29. Rooftop Vegetation

To reduce the passage of rainwater into the sewer system, colleges are installing green roofs, which feature vegetation that consumes a large amount of water before running off. These systems also help to keep the top floor of buildings cooler during hot months, and insulated from cold temperatures and icy winds in the winter.

A roof with cultivated plants
A green roof helps to insulate buildings and allow plants to enjoy the benefits of rain water. Arlington County/flickr

30. Native Plants

Colleges like Centralia are switching to native plants, which need less water and maintenance due to their indigenous status.

31. Simple Reminders

Using stickers, signs and other awareness tools, schools are placing simple reminders in high water usage areas, such as busy restrooms. These reminders can help students be mindful about their water usage.

32. Purchasing Energy Star Equipment

Dishwashers, washing machines and other water-consuming appliances can make a big difference in water usage, especially on a college-sized scale. Schools like Boston College are replacing old equipment with new, more energy efficient machines, cutting water consumption by 50 percent.

33. Reduced Power Washing

Everyone likes to see a sparkly clean college, but many schools are recognizing that they don’t need to power wash as often as they have in the past. At the University of Washington, power washing has been reduced to the removal of graffiti and slippery materials only.

A man power washes an outdoor floor
Power washing is great for making things look very clean, but it's an excessive use of water in many cases. Bignai/Shutterstock

34. Updated Facilities Equipment

Water-cooled compressors, single pass chillers, cooling towers, and more equipment often use water, and not always efficiently. Schools like the University of Washington have identified water wasting equipment and updated them, such as replacing water-cooled compressors with air-cooled ones.

35. Drought-Tolerant Grass

Schools are adopting the use of grass that doesn’t need to be watered or mowed often. At UC-Davis and UC-Riverside, a new strain of grass, UC-Verde, was created. This grass needs only 25 percent the amount of water used for typical turf grasses.

36. On-Demand Water Heaters

Residential buildings may have their water heaters upgraded to tankless on demand models. At Dartmouth, these heaters are used to save water while students wait for the water to heat up.

37. Hand Sanitizer Installation

Duke University and many others have cut down on water used for sanitation purposes by installing hand sanitizers in bathrooms and other common areas. For quick sanitation purposes, a full hand wash using water is not needed, and alcohol-based sanitizer can be used instead.

Hand sanitizer dispenser
A quick pump of hand sanitizer is often all folks needs for clean hands. Paul Velgos/Shutterstock

38. Removing Lawn Areas

Maintaining lawn areas typically means keeping up with watering, but at Scripps College, they may not have to deal with it as much. The college is considering removing lawn areas where appropriate, reducing the amount of water needed to maintain campus lawns.

39. Water Coolers and Taps

Water coolers allow students, faculty and staff to fill up reusable containers instead of buying bottled water. Schools like Dartmouth have employed the use of Brita pitchers and point of service units that dispense filtered (and sometimes even flavored) water.

40. Water-Recycling Washing Machines

At Middlebury College, soiled aprons and chef jackets go through two wash and rinse cycles, which ordinarily would be wasteful. But using a water recycler, the college is able to capture the rinse water for the next wash cycle.

This article originally appeared on BestColleges.com, and was reprinted here with permission.