Water conservation on campuses of higher education in Texas



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Facing drought and water shortages, many regions of the United States and the world have been forced to improve water resources management. In water-stressed areas of the US, water conservation has become the most economically viable water supply option available. As such, water conservation efforts are an increasingly popular method of demand management and have proven effective at various scales throughout the country. Many states in the arid southwest, including Texas, have incorporated water conservation strategies into their state water plans to reduce demand during drought conditions. At the 2013 Summit for the Texas Regional Alliance for Campus Sustainability (TRACS), water conservation was identified as a critical issue for higher education institutes (HEI) across the state. HEIs are analogous to small cities in terms of their resource use, and can also serve as test labs for sustainability concepts and resource management strategies. In response to concerns about water scarcity, TRACS launched an evaluation of water conservation strategies across Texas’ HEI campuses. The project collected data focused on the use of water conservation methods and their perceived effectiveness in irrigation and landscaping, building use, and utilities. Additionally, water conservation educational efforts, and the goals and policies of HEIs were considered. The objectives of the project were to collaborate with Texas HEIs, compile a database of best practices, and identify regional preferences in a state with varying climates and water resources. The results of the survey determined that native and adaptive plants were the most-widely used water conservation method for irrigation and landscaping as well the most effective strategy. In buildings, low-flow plumbing was reported to be the most widely-used and also most effective water conservation method. A variety of water conservation measures were used in utilities; metering, maintenance, and recycling water were viewed as most effective. While many HEIs reported offering opportunities for students to learn or participate in research about water conservation, only half reported offering workshops or courses for managerial staff and faculty. Education for staff and faculty is a particularly important area for improvement, as many staff members are closely involved in managing water use across campuses. Many of the HEIs reported having water conservation policies in place or pending and some participating HEIs reported having target reduction plans and involvement with agencies related to water conservation. It is important for the administration of educational institutions to put policies and plans in place to guide the everyday operations of a campus. HEIs in the state are making great strides in water conservation, but establishing a network to share best practices and improvements could significantly enhance campus water conservation initiatives.