UConn takes measures in face of extended drought

According to the State of Connecticut Water Status website, Connecticut officially has a drought advisory as of September 14, 2016. Groundwater and stream flow levels are below normal, and the crop moisture index is being considered to be abnormally dry. (Ruohan Li/The Daily Campus)

Storrs is experiencing a two-year-long drought with no end in sight, according to the University of Connecticut’s Office of Environmental Policy. Water restrictions are currently in place on the campus and measures are being taken in order to ensure UConn has enough water to operate.

According to the State of Connecticut Water Status website, Connecticut officially has a drought advisory as of September 14, 2016. Groundwater and stream flow levels are below normal, and the crop moisture index is being considered to be abnormally dry.   

Signs in several dormitories have been posted advising students of the drought conditions. The Office of Environmental Policy established the advisories eight years ago, though this is the first time UConn has experienced a drought this severe since then.

“The entire state has experienced an extended two-year period of rainfall deficit,” Richard Miller, Director of the Office of Environmental Policy for the UConn, said. “It seems like it’s been especially dry in the eastern part of the state.”

Connecticut's current Palmer Drought Severity index number, which measures drought levels through soil moisture, is in the -2.0 to -2.99 range, which is considered moderate to severe.

“We’re way behind where we need to be,” Dr. Michael Dietz, a water resources educator and UConn Extension Associate Director, said.

Dietz works with Connecticut municipalities so they can adapt their growing infrastructure to the environment. He works mainly with UConn at the extension and educates municipal officials on water resources.

The droughts UConn and the Connecticut area receive are a part of the weather and seasonal changes, according to Dietz.

Connecticut’s current Palmer Drought Severity index number, which measures drought levels through soil moisture, is in the -2.0 to -2.99 range, which is considered moderate to severe.

“It’s a part of the natural cycle we go through,” Dietz said. “However, something we’re paying attention to is climate change. It’s going to affect our [autumn] foliage...it’s going to be less intense this year.”

Dietz said that in the future, the Northeast could expect short periods of intense rain and precipitation, with long periods of drought – such as the one UConn is currently experiencing.

The university is currently adapting to this forecast, along with the growing student body, according to Office of Environmental Policy Compliance Analyst Katie Milardo.

UConn usually draws its water from both the Fenton and Willimantic Rivers, and an additional pipeline is being built between Storrs and the Shenipsit Reservoir in Tolland, along Route 195. Recently, UConn has stopped drawing water from the Fenton well.

 

“We’ve been monitoring the water level of the rivers,” Milardo said.  

When the water levels get too low, UConn will stop using that particular source, which has already happened this year.

“We haven’t used our wells near the Fenton River since early this summer,” Miller said. “Because we know that it can impact the river and further reduce instream water flow.”

The Shenspit Pipeline should provide UConn with enough water to last through this drought and future droughts, according to both Milardo and Dietz.

However, water warnings and infrastructure changes are still being put in place to reduce the amount of water waste, Milardo said.

“Facilities have been taking a great part in installing low flow faucets,” Milardo said. “It really has made a great impact.”

The low-flow faucets have saved as much as 100,000 gallons, according to the Office of Environmental Policy. Other measures, such as the high-efficiency washing machines and dryers in the dorms and the UConn Water Reclamation Facility have helped reduce the University’s water consumption by 15.5 percent in the past 11 years.

Milardo encourages students to help make less of an impact, especially in times of drought like these.

“[Students should be] Running dishwashers or a washing machine on a full load instead of a half load, washing your car less and reporting leaky fixtures,” Milardo said. “We make sure to get the word out.”

The Office of Environmental Policy has its annual EcoMadness Month as well, from October 3 to 30 this year. The campaign helps spread awareness and reduce resource waste among students living in the residence halls.

Dietz emphasized the value of water and the affect students can have on consumption.

“I pay attention to the ways I use water,” Dietz said. “The biggest thing that students have power over is the showers. Shorter showers definitely help.”

The water of UConn is a limited commodity,” Dietz added. It’s up to students to help reduce their impact.

“I feel that people take water for granted,” Dietz said. “We depend on it. It’s a precious resource and we should value it.”