Washington State University Pullman continues to make strides in its water conservation efforts, an initiative that dates back more than three decades.
Between 1986 and 2019, WSU Pullman reduced its annual water consumption from 681 million gallons to 469 million gallons, even as the on-campus population grew by more than 2,000 students.
Last year, a new significant milestone in water conservation achieved: Less than 400 million gallons used throughout 2020. And while WSU has its own water system, it’s putting the same emphasis on conservation during the current drought conditions that municipalities are asking their water users to embrace.
“We are completely on board with conserving water while protecting our highly valued natural assets like perennial plants and trees that are environmentally important,” Rick Finch, a manager with Facilities Services, said.
Last year alone, WSU Pullman added 22 new water meters and plans are underway to address remaining unmetered areas. Despite financial constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, current plans call for the metering of WSU’s water system to be 95% complete in the 2021-23 fiscal cycle.
Efforts to reduce water consumption included installing sophisticated irrigation control measures and reducing the amount of space that requires watering. This has been done largely by replacing grass playfields with turf.
WSU Pullman has its own source of water that is pumped from four wells spread across campus. The campus also monitors rainfall data and has equipment capable of detecting different weather conditions and adjusting the amount of irrigation water needed. Irrigation is also done in the evening to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation.
These tactical approaches to conservation underscore that the solution isn’t as simple as not watering lawns and foliage, Finch said.
“If we’re not careful in how we cut water usage, we’re going to start losing trees by making them more susceptible to disease,” he added.
There are approximately 10,000 trees scattered across the WSU Pullman campus, with the highest number being draught-resistant breeds like Austrian pines as well as varieties of spruces, maples and locusts. Trees are taken seriously enough that any department looking to expand a building or parking lot has to replace any that are lost in the process.
“We’ve got a beautiful campus that’s well maintained and has aesthetic, monetary and environmental value,” Finch said.
WSU also uses its water system for the Palouse Ridge Golf Club. Debuting in its 18-hole format in 2008, the course was designed with water conservation in mind, with sensors tracking soil conditions and each of its more than 2,000 sprinklers individually controllable for precision watering.
CourseCo, which manages the course for WSU, won the 2019 President’s Award for Environmental Stewardship from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America in 2019.
For more information on WSU’s water conservation efforts, visit its Sustainability website.