What Works at Colorado State University

May 9, 2005
Efficiency rules at Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO-based Colorado State University is growing - and with growth comes the inevitable need for additional resources. Right? Not always. Since 1990, Colorado State University’s student population has risen by 5,000 (a 25-percent increase). Over the past 15 years, the university’s facilities have expanded by an additional 1.4 million square feet (a 19-percent increase). But despite these upsurges, potable water usage on campus has actually decreased by more than 100 million gallons per year.

Carol J. Dollard, utility engineer, Colorado State University, has been a part of the university’s water conservation efforts for 6 years. “Colorado State is located in the semi-arid west and, as a result, has always tried to be a prudent consumer of water. The drought of 2002 through 2004 refocused [our] efforts,” she explains. Over the past 2 years, the university has invested approximately $2 million in energy and water conservation projects that are expected to generate savings of $500,000 per year.

In addition to conserving water, Colorado State has lessened its impact on the environment in other ways as well. The university is also dedicated to recycling (including fluorescent lights, asphalt, Styrofoam peanuts, and tree prunings); indoor air quality (utilizing green janitorial methods); offering alternatives to conventional transportation (employing electric vehicles, “bicycle” landscaping, and a pedestrian-friendly campus); and providing substitutes for electricity (offering students the chance to purchase wind power to offset the impact of electrical use).

Colorado State University employs several state-of-the-art methods to realize water conservation - despite the fact that the number of people using this valuable resource continues to rise. One example: The school uses raw, untreated water for irrigation to save both water and energy. This process is optimized via a central computer control (allowing sprinkler schedules to be set from a centralized location, preventing over-watering). The irrigation system is currently being retrofitted with automatic valves so that if a leak develops, the correlating “zone” will automatically shut off. Dollard estimates that using untreated vs. treated water in its irrigation system saves the university over $200,000 per year.

Inside its buildings, the university is reducing once-through cooling and taking advantage of a district-cooling chilled water loop. Autoclaves used in the university’s labs, veterinary teaching hospital, and Center for Disease Control facility are being replaced with more efficient models. With each new autoclave saving 40,000 gallons of water per month, payback for these devices is slightly more than 1 year. “We have 37 [autoclaves] on campus, so the overall savings is approximately 1.5 million gallons per month (18 million gallons per year), or more than $60,000 per year in savings,” says Dollard. Water-saving plumbing fixtures have been installed in campus residence halls, kitchens, locker rooms, and restrooms; waterless urinals are now being tested for possible use in the future.

“In the ’70s and ’80s, as energy became more expensive, Colorado State began a program to reduce energy use. In the mid- to late-’80s, this program really ramped up after bonds were issued to pay for conservation projects. At that time, water was significantly less expensive, and water conservation projects did not have as good a payback as energy projects. [However, because] costs have increased so dramatically, water conservation projects [now] have a better payback and can stack up next to energy projects well,” explains Dollard. “The drought provided a lot of ‘political will’ to reduce water use, but the rising cost of water has also helped provide motivation.”

Dollard also emphasizes that her team is focused on improving the efficiency of building systems and equipment instead of relying on end-user “behavioral changes” to improve water conservation efforts. “We do have an education program called ‘Green is Gold,’ where we promote energy and water conservation through behavior changes of our users,” she explains. But, this program has yielded smaller results than the replacement and modernization of the campus’ mechanical systems.

Considering the bottom-line savings and resource efficiency that Colorado State has experienced, the university doesn’t plan to minimize its efforts anytime soon: Dollard explains that the university will continue to identify opportunities for water conservation.

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is associate editor at Buildings magazine.

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