Louie Oliveira admits seeing Stanislaus State’s connected system of lakes and ponds from a different perspective than most people.
“We’re so fortunate to have these lakes on campus,” said Oliveira, chief operating engineer in the University’s Facilities Services department. “I look at them as giant rain barrels.”
The ability to store water on campus has given Stan State the ability to use water in forward-thinking ways, a practice that has garnered the University a state-wide honor.
Last fall’s project to convert the campus cooling towers from potable water to filtering and utilizing water already on campus was recognized as the top Water Efficiency/Site Water Quality project of the year executed within the 23-campus California State University system. Members of the Stanislaus State Facilities Services department will pick up the award during the annual California Higher Education Sustainability Conference in late June.
“Our lakes have been here for so long and we’re just starting to do modern things with them,” Oliveira said. “By converting the towers to lake water, it reduced the potable water use by five million gallons a year. In October — the first full month of the filter system in the towers — we had a 23 percent reduction in potable water use.”
The award, part of the CSU’s annual Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Best Practices Competition, demanded not only a summary presentation of how the campus manages water, but also how the project’s practices and results are communicated to the public. Stanislaus State has received national attention for its water management, including a prominent mention in the December 2016 issue of Building Operating Management magazine, a publication with a print circulation of more than 70,000 throughout North America.
With the cooling tower conversion completed and the results subject to continuous monitoring by the University’s state-of-the-art water management system, facilities services staff already are looking for ways to keep more rainwater within the campus system and further reduce the reliance on water from the Turlock city supply. The phrase used by Oliveira is “closing the loop.”
“The City of Turlock gets water from the aquifer and we buy about 15-18 million gallons a year from them,” Oliveira said. “We put it through our buildings and facilities and it goes back through our pumps to the sewer station. If we could get to the point where we could treat our own wastewater and then put it into a lake that could replenish the aquifer, we’d close the loop.”
He explained that through the first 12 weeks of 2016 the University had to pump 13.3 million gallons of collected rain water into the Turlock sewer system simply because there wasn’t enough water storage space on campus.
“That’s water we could have put back into the aquifer below our campus if we had the systems in place,” Oliveira said. “It would be nice to store some of that in the aquifer so we can draw on it in the summer. It’s so possible”
The process would involve either building a new porous-bottom pond on campus or converting one or more of the existing ponds into porous-bottom basins.
“Instead of pumping rainwater off campus, we would redirect it to that lake or retention basin where nature could filter the water,” Oliveira said. “Nature is really good at doing that and the ground around here is really good for filtration.”
While the cooling tower conversion is an award-winner, Oliveira insisted that the University isn’t nearly done in trying to find ways to store, use and reuse its most precious natural resource. Yes, Stanislaus State will continue to think outside the rain barrel.
“I just don’t like pumping all that water off campus,” Oliveira said. “What we’ve done so far is built on the system that already was here and put it to better use.”