Low Plaza

Columbia Proactive in Conserving Water as NYC Faces Drought

By Lauren Marshall

As the tri-state area hopes for spring showers, the University is urging students, faculty and staff to join a citywide effort to conserve water following the April 1st declaration of a stage 1 water emergency. While the most visible effect is a dry fountain on College Walk, a number of other efforts are underway to use water wisely on campus and off.

The bottom line is conservation -- reduce and reuse. On April 1, an advisory was placed in at the entrance of every Columbia residential building advising staff, students and residents to report leaks and reduce water use in University buildings and off campus housing. Individual residents can further assist by not running water when brushing teeth and economizing water during showers. But the bulk of the responsibility falls on the Facilities Management Department. With the responsibility of watering Columbia's some five acres of green space, a task that can cost as much as $1.2 million annually for the core campus alone, Facilities Management has implemented a series of water restrictions and is reusing recycled water when possible.

"As one of the 10 largest users of water in New York, we feel a special responsibility to do what we can to lessen the demand placed on the city's resources," said Mark Burstein, vice president for facilities management. "We hope to provide information necessary for members of the University community to help in the conservation effort."

The following measures are underway: Lawn and turf is watered on even days between the hours of 7:00-9:00 a.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m. Streets and sidewalks, including Low Library steps, will not be power water washed, the exception being for areas that require such cleaning for sanitation, including garbage collection. The washing of University vehicles will only occur at commercial car washes or with recycled water. Rather than using Morningside campus water, which comes from the New York City reservoir, for irrigation of water beds, well water is being transported from Baker field in 600-gallon trucks for the hand-irrigation of the Morningside campus.

As a conservation-conscious campus, Columbia also has the benefit of already-installed water conservation mechanisms that help the Morningside campus reduce water consumption on a daily basis. Included among these are low-flow timed sprinklers, which minimize water waste, reduced-flow shower heads which have been installed over the past few years in all residential halls and IRE properties, and a newly insulated water-cooling and heating system. At present 82 percent of steam/distillation caught by traps along the hundreds of miles of pipe that help heat and cool buildings is recycled for use in the power plant's cooling towers to minimize waste.

Published: Apr 17, 2002
Last modified:Sep 18, 2002

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