The UNC-Water Connection: Take a Look

This is the third post in a series on the water-energy connection. Words and pictures by Eric Schwartz. 

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Saving water is saving UNC big money, ahead of schedule

Smarter energy has myriad benefits. The environment wins when energy is efficient and so does UNC: Since 2002, the university has cut energy use by 29%- all without sacrificing energy capability. That equals $261 million saved from the budget.

Every year the university issues an energy management plan, and water conservation is playing an increasingly indispensable part in it.

A big part of that has to do with potable water. Suitable for drinking, it costs money to filter and clean. It has been far overused in situations where non-potable water would suffice (think fountains, toilets).

In 2007, the North Carolina legislature produced a bill asking for state buildings to bring potable water use down to 20%. Meanwhile, UNC has cut its use down to 47%.

How?

Let it Rain

Outside the Fedex Global Education Center, this fountain uses reclaimed rain and storm water
Outside the Fedex Global Education Center, this fountain uses reclaimed rain and storm water

UNC utilizes non-potable water by reclaiming rain and storm water, and capturing condensation that gathers on different surfaces. These forms of water are free! The only cost is the technology used to capture them, and that ends up covering its own costs quickly, because of the money saved from not having to pay for potable water.

1.8 hundred million gallons of non-potable water was used in 2014-2015 on things like toilets, irrigation, and cooling.

Since the water resource management program started in 2002, UNC’s potable water use has been virtually cut in half.

Thirsty pavement, cisterns, and the runoff problem

Water runoff is a problem, sweeping up everything from trash to the chemicals sprayed on grass, to animal waste to sediment. In nature, the ground does a good job of soaking up water and filtering it, but populated areas come with impervious surface like streets and parking lots where the runoff will likely flow into street sewers. That means the final destination for loaded runoff is in creaks, streams, and watersheds. That’s bad news for water quality.

Our urban world could learn a thing or two from nature…

Here, the thirsty pavement quenches its thirst with water that would otherwise be harmful runoff.

UNC has installed several parking with porous pavement. Carpool in your Chevy Bolt with pride to these destinations:

  • Estes Drive Extension parking lot
  • Park and Ride Lot next to the Friday Center on N.C. 54
  • McCauley Lot (across from the Cheek-Clark Building)
  • Chatham County Park and Ride Lot

Another way to counter the problems of water runoff is with a cistern, which acts as underground storage for the rainwater.

Clouds reflect angelically on the Genome Science Building’s facade.
Clouds reflect on the Genome Science Building’s facade.

Below the grassy, cascading Bell Tower Amphitheater is a 350,000-gallon cistern. The water collected here is redistributed to the futuristic Genome Science building, the glass-walled backdrop of the amphitheater. It is used for plumbing and cooling inside.

“The world’s largest ram,” according to his plaque. Hollow yet valiant, he graces the cistern with his stoic gaze. He has nothing to do with saving water- but is majestic nonetheless.
“The world’s largest ram,” according to his plaque. Hollow yet valiant, he graces the cistern with his stoic gaze. He has nothing to do with saving water- but is majestic nonetheless
So majestic.
So majestic.

Trees In the Sky

40-60 foot trees will sprout from the roof of Rams Head Plaza one day. That’s because it is just one of several locations where UNC has installed a vegetated roof system.

Other rooftop gardens include the FedEx Global Education Center and the Carrington Nursing School.

A green rooftop crowns the Fedex Global Education Center.
A green rooftop crowns the Fedex Global Education Center.
Views.
Views.
This mars-like terrain, which resembles many roofs at UNC, could look more earthly with rooftop green.
This mars-like terrain, which resembles many roofs at UNC, could look more earthly with rooftop green.

Rooftop greening:

  • Captures water that would otherwise be runoff, and returns it to the atmosphere via natural plant processes. In the summer, rooftop green captures 70-90% of perception that lands on it, and 25-40% in winter.
  • Makes the water that does waterfall down flow at a delayed rate- decreasing the likelihood of floods and runoff damage below. The plants also filter the water, so it is cleaner when it falls.

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It also makes for the best low-key hangout on Chapel Hill’s campus.

Sunshine floods the top floor of the Fedex Global Education Center. Walk through the far door to discover outdoor seating fragmented by foliage in bloom.
Sunshine floods the top floor of the Fedex Global Education Center. Walk through the far door to discover outdoor seating fragmented by foliage in bloom.

Calculate what a green roof could do for you, here.

Is this a field of cabbages?
Is this a field of cabbages?
The green roof under a vibrating, chameleon-blue sky
The green roof under a vibrating, chameleon-blue sky
Delightful.
Delightful.

Eat Your Campus (This Green Is Not Random)


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Inside Lenoir isn’t the only place around the pit to eat. The Edible Campus initiative is a form of edible harvesting, and aims to create plateaus of harvestable food around campus. The pit is an impervious stretch of campus, and besides being integrated, natural sources of food; the Edible Campus sites in that area prevent pit floods by increasing green space. This kind of strategic placement is huge. The grounds department even holds contests for the best placement ideas for plants.

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Strategically placed foliage line campus buildings like Lenoir .
Strategically placed foliage line campus buildings like Lenoir .

 

Bridging the Gap

Research is complex. Results are often awash with jargon and technical analysis that makes it hard for business owners, CEOs, and policy-leaders to utilize what research tells them in a meaningful way.

The WaSH Digest can help.

In summer of 2015 UNC’s Institute of Water began publication of the WaSH Digest to synthesize and breakdown water related studies. By reading their report, leaders are able to extrapolate useful, meaningful information they can apply to their organizations.

Sign up here to impress your friends with cutting edge knowledge from the water sector.

Go forth intrepidly, tar heels, with the knowledge that your campus is saving water.
Go forth intrepidly, tar heels, with the knowledge that your campus is saving water.