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Local universities take action to conserve water
UC Merced QR codes
Through the utilization of Quick-Response (QR) code stickers that have been placed in restrooms throughout UC Merced's Social Science and Management building, students and staff are able to report any water leaks in 30 seconds. - photo by VERONICA ADROVER/UC Merced

Thirty seconds. That’s all it takes now to report water leaks in the Social Science and Management building at University of California, Merced.


Whether it is a leaky sink or a leaky toilet, students and staff need only to point their smart phones towards conveniently placed Quick-Response code stickers, which have been placed in all restrooms in the building, to alert Facilities and Operations instantaneously of the issue.


The man behind these innovative QR code stickers is Varick Erickson, campus energy manager, who initially decided to implement the stickers to reduce the burden placed on students and staff who take action to report water leaks on campus.


“Originally we were just planning on putting a little sticker up on the window that would forward people to a work request website,” said Erickson. “However, it’s been in the back of mind for a while to integrate a faster kind of work process.”


“I wanted to use what we already have in terms of the work request system, but I wanted to streamline it and take it one step farther,” continued Erickson.


With the newly implemented QR code stickers, users do not have to deal with the hassle of filling out a maintenance request as the system does all the work itself by reporting exactly what type of leak is occurring and at what location — a convenient feature that saves a significant amount of time and effort for the user, according to Erickson.


“Before, the work request system was not very user-friendly and was designed more for internal use,” said Erickson. “Now, they just have to scan, log in with their student ID and password, and then they should receive an email that the work request has been inputted.”


With the help of Facilities’ Director of Energy and Sustainability Zuhair Mased and Facilities’ Director of Operations Jon Lampman, Erickson was able to receive feedback to better develop the graphic stickers, as well as determine the pilot location for the project.


“In terms of the actual system myself, I did it myself,” said Erickson. “However, in terms of feedback, a lot of different departments lent a hand, especially the ones who are very familiar with the things that go wrong on campus.


According to Erickson, the implementation of the new system only cost him his time, a new server, and the price of stickers.


“I had a spare computer that was being used to run some other things in terms of energy analysis and things like that, so I used that computer to run the server for the QR code system,” said Erickson. “It only took me a couple of weeks to develop a prototype version and then another couple of weeks to debug it and make sure it was really robust.”


“It really was a side project really, something I squeezed in on the side whenever I had a spare moment,” continued Erickson.


Although these QR code stickers can be used for a multitude of services, Erickson hopes to at least phase in these stickers for leak detection throughout campus in the summer once his department receives feedback about their use in the SSM building.


“My fear was that our old method, which would probably take a person a good three to five minutes to enter in a leak report in terms of reading it and figuring out how to enter it in correctly, would discourage people to report water leaks,” said Erickson.


“Now the system does everything for you. The burden is so low that people are willing to do it and they will be more conscious of leaks overall,” continued Erickson.


UC Merced is not alone in its endeavor to conserve water in this severe drought as California State University, Stanislaus is also applying a myriad of measures to make sure the campus uses every drop of water wisely.


According to CSU Stanislaus Associate Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Tim Lynch, all water that runs through the storm drains is reclaimed in the large rectangular Reflecting Pond at the entrance to the campus on University Circle, as well as used for landscape irrigation.


During the last bout of precipitation experienced by the region last week, the campus was able to collect upwards of 500,000 gallons of rainwater, which is now being stored for irrigation.


“The university does not use any domestic water for irrigation,” said Lynch.


Additionally, new state-funded buildings that have been built since 2004 are fitted with low-flow faucets, toilets, and urinals. For buildings that have been built prior to 2004, Lynch reports that the University has replaced toilets, sinks, and shower fixtures with low-flow water-conserving equipment.


“Depending on the original fixtures, these items reduce the water used by 33 to 60 percent,” said Lynch.


The campus has also reduced the amount of water used for irrigation and landscaping overall, reduced washing of state-funded car and other vehicles, reduced the height and running-time of the fountains in the campus lakes, initiated a marketing campaign to educate the campus about ways to conserve water, and reduced the blow-down time on Central Plant cooling towers, which resulted in a 30 percent reduction in water usage at the towers.


Although the campus has already implemented a number of measures to combat the drought, Lynch assures that it is far from finished.


Currently, the University has plans to install meters to track water use at individual buildings, lakes, and landscaped areas, reduce the amount of lawn and turf around campus and replace them with drought-tolerant plants, and utilize reclaimed water for the Central Plant cooling towers with the intent to reduce domestic water consumption by over three million gallons annually.