UConn water conservation alert still in effect

In this photo, the UConn water towers are pictured on the North side of campus, between the Towers Residence Hall complex and Husky Village. A water conservation alert has been in effect throughout the first week of classes. (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

A water conservation alert remains in effect at UConn as students conclude their first week of classes.

The dry summer depleted local well fields, prompting the university to issue a stage IA water conservation alert in July.

The alert, citing “seasonally dry conditions,” requests that students, staff and Mansfield residents using the university’s water supply system voluntarily commit to conservation efforts. It suggests shorter showers, limiting the watering of lawns and running tap water only when necessary to reduce water usage.

Stanley Nolan, director of utility operations and energy management at UConn, said the current conservation alert is the earliest in a series of steps the university can take to counter a water shortage emergency, including mandatory limits on use.

“It’s all by the amount of water that’s flowing through the waterstream,” Nolan said. “We try to be very conscious of everything and take action as early as we can to ensure that we never have a situation that adversely affects the streams.”

UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy reported the university uses up to 2 million gallons of water per day during the summer months, with up to 844,300 gallons coming from the Fenton River and 2.3 million gallons coming from the Willimantic well fields.

It’s fairly standard for the area, it just depends on how hot the summer’s been.
— Sarah Munro, sustainability coordinator for the Office of Environmental Policy, on UConn's water shortage.

Sarah Munro, sustainability coordinator for the Office of Environmental Policy, said the water shortage was expected.

“It’s fairly standard for the area, it just depends on how hot the summer’s been,” Munro said.

She said retrofitting residence halls and other buildings with low-flow plumbing has significantly increased the efficiency of UConn’s water system. According to the Office of Environmental Policy’s estimates, this has the potential to save the university 58,000 to 98,000 gallons per day, enough to offset water usage from ongoing construction on campus.

Eric Grulke, assistant sustainability coordinator for the Office of Environmental Policy, said another major improvement was the addition of the reclaimed water facility in 2013.

“We are basically able to divert a maximum of 1 million gallons of usable water from the reclamation facility,” Grulke said. “Every little bit makes the difference.”

This reclaimed grey water is sanitized and used for everything from toilets to cooling UConn’s cogeneration power plant, allowing UConn’s utilities to operate in a “closed loop system,” Nolan said.

These and other changes have allowed UConn to reduce annual water usage by 15.5 percent despite a 23 percent population increase since the Fenton River ran dry for a week in September 2005. Following this shortage, former UConn president Philip E. Austin took responsibility for the incident.

“The university believes that withdrawals from its wellfields required to meet seasonally peak demands during current extreme dry conditions contributed to the drying of the Fenton River,” Austin said in a letter to the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection in 2005. “In retrospect, we share your question as to whether our efforts to conserve water and reduce pumping to the extent possible could have been more timely and robust.”

In the letter, Austin promised to undertake water conservation efforts that continue today with the Sustainability Framework of UConn’s 2015 Master Plan aim of “net zero energy and water growth.”

Grulke said the next step in the evolution of UConn’s water supply is construction of a new pipeline which was approved by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in May. The five-mile waterway, paid for by the Connecticut Water Service, will connect Storrs to the Shenipsit Lake Reservoir in Tolland.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.