PULLMAN, Wash. — Since the mid-1980s, Washington State University has decreased the amount of water it pumps from the Palouse region’s deep aquifer from about 700 million gallons annually to about 600 million gallons annually, despite a growth in enrollment and facilities on the Pullman campus.

University officials attribute the decrease to multiple campus water conservation strategies, including use of water-conserving building plumbing fixtures, more efficient irrigation techniques and improvements in the campus chilled water and steam distribution systems.  The university has invested in more efficient industrial chillers and cooling towers for its chilled water system and the new steam plant on Grimes Way should allow for further water conservation.

“It is really counterintuitive for most of us to think that deep aquifer water use could go down during a period of growth on the campus. But that is what has happened and we continue to aggressively seek additional water conserving solutions,” said Kirk Pawlowski, design/planning manager for WSU’s Office of Capital Planning and Development.

WSU Capital Planning and Development officials are scheduled to update the Pullman City Council on the university’s building plans and water conservation efforts on  Sept. 7.

In 1990, the Pullman campus had an enrollment of 15,547. In fall 2003, enrollment was 18,622. In 1990, Pullman campus facilities totaled about 8.2 million square feet. The most current space inventory in 2003 put the overall campus space at just over 10 million square feet.

A cornerstone of WSU’s expanded water conservation efforts is its proposed partnership with the city of Pullman on the water reclamation project, one of the university’s highest funding priorities in its planned 2005-2007 capital budget proposal. A $3.4 million allocation to begin construction of the project was approved by the Legislature earlier this year but was vetoed by Gov. Gary Locke.

The water reclamation project would initially provide 1 million gallons per day of reclaimed water for irrigation to the WSU campus. It would be built with the capacity to expand to more than 3 million gallons per day as the community continues to grow.  The Pullman School District also would have the option to use reclaimed water for irrigating athletic facilities on Military Hill because the easement for the line would run through the area where the Pullman Aquatic Center is located.

Joe Kline, master infrastructure planner for WSU’s Office of Capital Planning and Development, said that during the summer the reclaimed water could be used to replace water that the university now uses for irrigation. The university’s average water use of about 36 million gallons a month can more than double in the driest summer months because of increased campus irrigation and building cooling requirements.

The water reclamation project would provide an important source of water to meet the needs of a growing campus. Several projects that are now being discussed on the WSU Pullman campus — including an 18-hole NCAA championship golf course and a veterinary medicine facilities expansion — would be major water users.

Meanwhile, the university continues to move forward with plans to expand its base of research facilities – particularly in a biotechnology research complex that is under construction – which will also create more demand for water.