Even in the midst of what officials are calling a historically wet year, Stanislaus State is still doing its part to make sure that not one drop of water goes to waste.
So far in 2017, the local university has collected approximately 30 million gallons of water through its water reclamation system, an amount that has already surpassed the total collected throughout the entirety of 2016 by several million gallons.
“During this year so far, we’ve received and pumped more water than the entire year last year, so there’s an idea of the difference between a wet year and a dry year,” said Chief Engineer Louie Oliveira.
Last month alone, the campus collected approximately 10 million gallons of water. Of that amount, 2 million gallons were stored, while 8.8 million gallons were pumped to Turlock Irrigation District. According to the university, the heaviest day was Feb. 20, when more than 3 million gallons of rainwater were gathered. Of that amount, 760,000 gallons were pumped into campus storage and the rest pumped through the TID system. Oliveira said that the campus pumps excess water to TID on a regular basis.
“Even though we have the ability to store millions of gallons of water, we don’t have enough capacity to store it all,” said Oliveira. “So we’ve discharged to the regional storm water system, which is basically TID. Because their pipeline runs under our campus, we have permission to discharge excess water into their system, which ends up in the canal and off to the river.”
The water reclamation system at Stanislaus State begins with underground pipes and storm drains, which capture the rain and excess irrigation from campus building roofs, streets, landscaped areas and parking lots, as well as neighboring streets such as Geer Road, Monte Vista Avenue and Crowell Road.
“So in essence we catch all the rainfall. As a matter of fact, you can’t even wash your car on this campus without us catching water,” laughed Oliveira.
Once the rain is captured, the irrigation system — which is powered by electrical power, nearby solar arrays, and an emergency backup generator — pumps the water into the Reflecting Pond, which is the campus’ main reservoir, for storage.
“We use that water for various reasons — the biggest one is irrigation,” said Oliveira.
Water is pumped from the Reflecting Pond into the four campus lakes, which provide additional storage for campus landscape irrigation. Oliveira said that these four lakes and the Reflecting Pond can hold anywhere between 12 to 14 million gallons of water.
“A really cool thing about our water management strategy here is any runoff from irrigation, such as sprinklers running over the sidewalks or overwatering, is captured into the same collection system and back to the lake for storage and reuse so we don’t lose any of it,” said Oliveira. “A lot of times in the summer, people come by and say that there are sprinklers running over the sidewalk or water going down the gutter, but we’re not losing that water. We’re capturing it all.”
During a normal irrigation year, Oliveira said that the campus uses approximately 100 million gallons of water for irrigation purposes, however, this past year they used 87 million gallons.
“This was somewhat of a reduction because the governor’s mandate for reducing water use didn’t really include lake water because we’re not using domestic water, but just being good stewards of our environment, we also reduced irrigation throughout the campus,” said Oliveira.
While a majority of the reclaimed water goes towards irrigation purposes at Stanislaus State, Oliveira said that water also goes to power the university’s cooling towers, which cool about 90 percent of the campus. In August 2015, the campus switched from using Turlock’s domestic water supply to reclaimed water in order to run these towers, according to Oliveira, who said that they use between four to five million gallons of water during an average year.
“Cooling towers use a lot of water — that’s just by nature,” said Oliveira. “So about a year ago we tapped into the reclamation water system and we are pumping that water to cool the campus through the cooling towers.
“In effect, we cool the campus with rainwater,” continued Oliveira.
The cooling tower reclaimed water project at Stanislaus State not only saved the campus approximately four to five millions of gallons of water a year, but it also received outside recognition in the form of a Best Practices Award during the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference in June 2016. The following October, the project was honored with yet another Best Practices Award in the Facilities/Physical Plant Operations category during the California State University Facilities Conference.
“We are very proud of our awards and our water management practices here on campus,” said Oliveira.
As for the Stanislaus State’s next water-related project, Oliveira said that the campus has a dream of storing excess water in the underground aquifer through a groundwater recharging station — rather than pumping it to TID.
“The groundwater recharging station is basically a specially engineered catch basin that we would pump water into and then let it replenish the aquifer underground,” said Oliveira. “We would just redirect our pumps to our own recharging station.
“We’re hoping to put it on the master plan to be able to implement in the next few years. Of course, it all depends on the budget and other variables,” continued Oliveira.