Graduate Students and Staff Collaborate on Water Management at Yale

January 10, 2014

Although fresh water is an abundant resource in New England, concerns related to fresh water cost, supply, infrastructure, and extreme weather events warrant understanding and active management of Yale’s water use. Yale uses approximately 560 million gallons of potable water per year. Over half is used indirectly for heating and cooling (generation of campus steam and chilled water), 40% is used directly for domestic needs, dining services, and laboratory processes, and 7% is used for irrigation.

In December 2013, Yale Facilities published the Yale University Water Management Plan 2013-2016. The plan consists of strategies completed to date and planned for the future to reduce, understand, and actively manage water use at Yale. Given the areas of high water use, the plan prioritizes water efficiency of domestic plumbing fixtures and central plant equipment, as well as water avoidance by reducing demand for chilled water cooling throughout the year.

The development of the Water Management Plan was an outcome of a goal set in the first Sustainability Strategic Plan 2010-2013. The analysis for the Water Management Plan provided the basis for the goal in the Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013-2016 “to reduce annual potable water use on campus 5% below FY2013 levels by June 2016,” which equates to a reduction of 28 million gallons.

Two graduate students from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES), Lisa Weber and Dawn Henning, partnered with Yale Facilities and the Office of Sustainability on the development of the plan and its strategies. The students were advised by Julie Paquette, Director of Energy Management in Facilities, and Virginia Chapman, Director of the Office of Sustainability.

Lisa Weber obtained her Master of Environmental Science (MESc) degree in May 2013 with a specialization in water science, policy, and management and worked closely with Facilities on the development of the Yale Water Management Plan. “It’s been a great learning experience for me to work with the engineers in Facilities,” said Weber. “Water management is something I’m really passionate about. This has been an excellent opportunity to put into practice the scientific principles I learned at FES and to facilitate water management planning on campus for the next three years.”

Meanwhile, Dawn Henning, an MESc candidate 2015, analyzed the performance of reclaimed water systems at Yale. Reclaimed water systems use non-potable water for non-potable demand, thus reducing demand for treated, potable water. Yale has installed seven reclaimed water systems in six buildings since 2005.[1] In these systems, stormwater, laboratory reverse osmosis reject water, and condensate from air handling units are collected and used for flushing toilets and for irrigation. 

Henning’s analysis compiled lessons learned from the existing reclaimed water systems to inform the design of these systems in the future. One recommendation is to prioritize non-stormwater sources of water when possible, such as laboratory reverse osmosis water, since this source requires minimal to no treatment and tends to be more consistent in supply than stormwater.

Reflecting on her experience, Henning said, “I found all of the staff really receptive… the building operators of the technologies had a lot of valuable information to share.” Thinking of Julie Paquette and Virginia Chapman, Henning added, “Working with strong women in a technical field was inspiring.”

To learn more about water management at Yale, read the newly released Water Management Plan on the Yale Facilities website.

[1] Buildings at Yale with reclaimed water systems include the Malone Center, Chemistry Research Building, Amistad Building, Loria Center, Sculpture Building, and Kroon Hall.