Houston Universities Fight Drought with Reclaimed Water

November 16, 2011

Rice University and the University of Houston are tapping into graywater reclamation to save millions of gallons of water during a historic drought.

By harvesting 12 million gallons of condensate water from air conditioning units across campus, Rice plans to save $80,000 to $100,000 per year. The recycled water represents 5-6% of the university’s annual water consumption.

The initiative kicked off in 2008 at the school’s Bioscience Research Collaborative building, a 10-story structure that requires a large amount of cooling and produces considerable condensate. The recycled water helps replace water lost to evaporation without depending entirely on the city to provide it.

The initial success at the bioscience building led Rice to complete a project this summer that allows condensate collection at eight additional buildings.

“The great thing about this condensate water is that it’s pure. You don’t need to treat it,” says Richard Johnson, Rice’s director of energy and sustainability. “It’s distilled water, and it’s cold.”

At the University of Houston, the 8,000 gallons of water wasted daily from the cooling towers led officials to explore a similar graywater recovery system to reduce water and energy costs. The school started with three science buildings about five years ago and intends to expand the initiative to all new construction.

The universities’ green steps are a hit with students, according to Rice student Keith Morrison, who was proud that his campus took steps to conserve a resource in short supply.

“It saves money while conserving water,” Morrison says. “We should do more things like this.”