CSUN’s Physical Plant Management is keeping a close eye on the University Student Union’s water conservation efforts, but is reluctant to follow their lead.
Beginning four years ago, bathrooms at the USU were renovated with conservation in mind. The flush-urinals used in the men’s restrooms, which account for 13 of the USU’s 30 restrooms, were replaced with Waterless No-Flush? urinals from C’L Supply Co.
Gary Homesley, assistant director of facilities and maintenance at the USU, attributes a 40 percent reduction in domestic water intake to the waterless urinals alone, which saves the university an estimated $10,000 to $15,000 per year.
Tom Brown, executive director of PPM, applauds the USU’s water conservation efforts, but said he thinks it is too early to tell whether it would be cost-efficient to replace the rest of the university’s older flush urinals with waterless ones.
“We’ve been more reluctant to venture into that because there are a number of concerns that haven’t been adequately answered for us,” says Brown. “What is the real cost? The cost of the chemicals and the maintenance is a big issue. When you make that leap you have to be committed to making sure that it works well.”
Brown said water is still relatively cheap so there is no immediate demand for water-saving renovation. In 2005 water amounted to 7.3 percent of the total energy budget. While PPM annually tracks and totals energy costs and compares them to other California universities, it does not compare water consumption.
Brown said PPM wants the university as a whole to have water-saving technology, but that it is more prudent to see how the new technology works at the USU before renovating bathrooms across campus. PPM collaborates with the USU but does not run its facilities. As a smaller operation, the USU serves as an ideal test platform for the rest of the university.
Homesley said the new technology has been so successful that it has “prompted the campus to take a serious look at using them on the campus,” specifically for the performing arts center that is scheduled for completion in 2010.
Tom Brown, however, is concerned about the potential for uric and salt build up in pipes when using waterless urinals.
“Urine flows through a chemical medium and it’s allowed to pass but it has to have a vapor barrier and that’s a special chemical,” says Brown. “Effectively you have concentrated uric acid and salts that can build up on your pipes. To really analyze that ? takes some time and lengths of service where you can actually take a pipe sample out and see what’s happening.”
Though Brown is wary about the cost-effectiveness of new water-saving technology, he says he sees society ultimately moving in that direction.
Though the vast majority of faucets and toilets on campus are manually operated, some have already been replaced or retrofitted with automatic shut-off devices on faucets and automatic sensor flushes on urinals and toilets.
Thomas E. Pape, technical adviser for the California Urban Water Conservation Council, said that some retrofits touted as “conservation fixtures” are not evidenced to conserve water. Brown says this has been the PPM’s experience with the faucet shut-off valves they have installed, which were not big water-savers and prone to malfunction.
Tiffany Cruz, a sophomore majoring in cinema, disagrees. “Some people accidentally forget to shut off manual faucets and the water just goes to waste down the drain.”
Domestic water usage, however, is less than what is used for irrigation, Brown said, and new technology is used in this area. The old sprinkler controllers that operated manually have long been replaced with electronic controllers with resets that can quickly sweep through the campus landscape and determine what the weather is and whether to push back the watering schedule.
Some students say that sprinklers have been seen on during the day. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power prohibits watering during the day during droughts, and even during non-drought times it recommends that landscapes be watered early in the morning to avoid evaporation and wind drift, according to Carol Tucker, spokesperson for the LAPWP.
Brown says that watering during the day is limited and is reserved for summer projects and recovering water to areas that have been deprived of it during occasional system failures.