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University responds to drought

by Karen A. Grava - September 26, 2005

The University, responding to drought conditions, is continuing to implement water conservation measures in the near term and is seeking a qualified professional firm to operate and manage its water system.

The conservation measures were implemented two weeks ago after an estimated quarter mile of the Fenton River, one of the University’s sources for water, was dry. Although the river is flowing again, due to rain two weekends ago, the University continues to conserve water and to ask other users of the system to do so, too. The University expects soon to hire an outside contractor to manage the water system.

Despite the drought being experienced in northeastern Connecticut, the University has adequate water both for its users and for fire fighting, says Linda Flaherty-Goldsmith, vice president and chief operating officer.

Although the campus has 3,000 additional students living in residence halls and a number of new buildings constructed through the UConn 2000 program, less water is used now than in 1988 because of the installation of water-saving devices and repairs to water pipes. Water usage in 1988 was 1.6 million gallons a day. Water usage last year averaged 1.35 million gallons a day.

A water supply plan completed last spring notes that there is adequate water available, even though there are plans to expand the Storrs Center.

Water savings are also being achieved by updating and repairing the water infrastructure, says Richard Miller, director of environmental policy. New pipes and pumps will be installed later this fall to allow for additional pumping from wells near the Willimantic River – a larger river with higher flow rates – which will   reduce demand on the Fenton River.

This fall, UConn began limiting the hours it pumps water from wells near the Fenton and is pumping additional water from the Willimantic. The University is storing less water on campus to minimize the need for pumping and has begun mandatory conservation measures to save water, including banning the use of water to flush pipes, hydrants, and sewers, or for dust control; minimizing the watering of athletic fields and gardens; and not washing vehicles.

Miller says the University also has curtailed use of research laboratory equipment, such as lasers, that require water for cooling, and is taking immediate action to upgrade certain well pumps and water mains that will permit additional pumping from the Willimantic River.

The University has asked students, faculty, staff, area homeowners, businesses, the Town of Mansfield, and E.O. Smith High School to:

  • take shorter showers;
  • run dishwashers and clothes washing machines only when full;
  • not to run water waiting for it to cool down or warm up;
  • shut off water while washing dishes or brushing teeth, or lathering up to wash hands or shave;
  • shut taps tightly, and report leaky faucets to residence hall staff or call 860-486-3113;
  • avoid washing vehicles or watering lawns and postpone other non-essential water use until the drought ends.

“The conservation measures are working,” Miller says.

“Conservation is important because rivers – even in non-drought periods – historically have their lowest flow in August and September, while the University experiences peak water demand in early fall.”

The University is now in the third year of a three-year study of the Fenton River. Ironically, high water conditions during the first two years made it difficult to present a complete picture of the river until this summer.

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