U.Va. Water Use Up, but Is Still Less than 10 Years Ago

July 10, 2009 — Water use at University of Virginia rose in fiscal year 2009, but is still substantially below 1999 levels – despite a decade of growth in buildings and enrollment.

U.Va.'s records show that total water consumption in the 2008-09 fiscal year was 495.2 million gallons – an increase of 5.5 percent over the previous year's 469.5 million gallons – but still less than 10 years ago, when it used 671.7 million gallons. The University spent approximately $1.6 million for water in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

During that decade, the University's physical space expanded about 18 percent, from 10,778,952 square feet to 12,714,436 square feet. Enrollment also increased by about 1,300 students since 1999, and the workforce grew by 3,252 faculty and staff.

Cheryl Gomez, director of energy and utilities for the University, acknowledged that water usage is increasing. "Part of this is from building new research and clinical facilities," she said. "While they consume more energy and water, these facilities offer better access to health care and house research to increase knowledge that benefits the community and the nation."

Of the roughly 26 million-gallon increase in water use, approximately 14.8 million gallons were tied to newly constructed facilities.

All new University buildings are certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – or LEED – Green Building Rating System, which rates the buildings' energy efficiency and environmentally friendly features.

"These buildings will be highly efficient and conserve energy and water," Gomez said.

The University has taken a variety of steps over the years to curb water consumption. These have included using central chiller plants that use re-circulated water to cool not only buildings but also sophisticated scientific equipment; installing metering at all buildings; and using low-flow toilets and showerheads, as well as flow reduction aerators on faucets.

The University systematically tracks usage to identify possible leaks and waste. During the last year, several leaks in the water system were been identified and repaired.
"We are working very hard at leak detection," Gomez said.

As part of its Sustainability Programs in the Energy and Utilities Department, the University launched a team called "Delta Force," which is performing energy and water audits on existing buildings to improve efficiency. This effort has significantly improved system performance in the Medical Research 4 building. The Delta Force Team has established a five-year plan that will extend these services to more than half of the University's square footage.

— By Matt Kelly