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Saturday, December 2, 2023

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SDSU's Mediterranean Garden houses drought-tolerant plants.

Sustainable State

SDSU, a leader in sustainable water and energy consumption, offers some tips for making sustainable changes at home.
By Natalia Elko, video by Jeneene Chatowsky

This month, San Diegans are being called upon to do their part — to save water as California’s severe drought drags on.

Tom Abram and Bill Lekas, from energy management for San Diego State University's Facilities Services, explain how the university is at the forefront of water and energy efficiency while sharing tips for making sustainable changes at home.

At SDSU: A few years back, operators at the campus’ cooling towers noticed there was a lot of  dripping condensation from the towers going down the drain, so they decided to begin collecting it. So far, an estimated 400,000 gallons have been pooled and reused.

Dani Bedau Headshot

Lekas suggests using a flat pan or bucket to collect water from air conditioners and use the collection to water plants.

At SDSU: At the newly renovated Storm and Nasatir Halls, solar panels built on the roof and canopy of the buildings produce a significant amount of clean energy for the complex.

Dani Bedau HeadshotAccording to Abram, solar companies offer residential installations and while it can be an expensive upfront cost, there are ways to finance it where loan costs are actually less than what you’re saving on energy so you save from day one.

At SDSU: The Mediterranean Garden at SDSU is a great example of drought-tolerant plants and a sustainable irrigation system. The garden is maintained by a CalSense central irrigation system, which only uses as much water as necessary to keep the plants healthy based on how much water is evaporated from the soil and transpired by the plants.

Dani Bedau Headshot Lekas says choosing plants that are drought-tolerant will save on water and maintain your home’s aesthetics. Also, irrigation methods such as drip and rotators can efficiently provide water when and where it’s needed.

At SDSU: Several bathrooms across campus have been updated with low-flow plumbing fixtures. Some toilets on campus use 1.28 gallons per flush, 50 percent less than the original fixtures, while new urinals use 0.125 gallons, which is more than 90 percent less than the water consumption of the original fixture.

Dani Bedau Headshot Ultra low-flow and high performance plumbing fixtures — including toilets, faucet aerators and showerheads — save substantial amounts of water compared to conventional fixtures while reducing your utility bill and the amount of available fresh water used, Abram said.

At SDSU: With buildings dating back more than 100 years, SDSU has a lot of historical lighting fixtures. To keep with the original design and beauty of these, the university has changed them out from 60 and 75-watt incandescent light bulbs to LED bulbs, which use more than 80% less energy.

Dani Bedau Headshot According to Lekas, switching out at-home light bulbs with LEDs not only saves on energy costs, it’s also eco-friendly. Because LEDS have around a 50,000 hour life span and most people only use them for a few hours a day it could take years before you need to replace them.

At SDSU: The new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union has a rainwater collection system. Rain gutters collect water on the top of the building and funnel it down to 150,000 gallon storage tanks beneath the main courtyard. The free water is used to irrigate plants.

Dani Bedau Headshot Randy McWilliams, facility manager for the union, suggests installing downspouts on at-home gutter systems that can drain into rain water collection tanks for irrigation use.

Drought response plan

With nearly 35,000 students as well as faculty, staff and community, SDSU has made several changes and upgrades over the years in order to serve everyone who steps foot on the 300-acre campus in a sustainable way.

While the City of San Diego mandatory water restrictions will have some impact on SDSU, such as turning off ornamental fountains, university practices are already substantially compliant with the restrictions.

Instead, more focus will be on how the campus can sustain a long-term reduction in water consumption. For example, campus can reduce water usage by saving on its energy consumption. Last year, the university used 230 million gallons of water — a quarter of the water was used for generating electricity and steam and keeping the campus cool.

“In response to the drought conditions across the state and in San Diego specifically, we’ve developed a drought response plan in order to address our own consumption,” Abram said. “A significant amount of our water consumption is in energy, so anything that we do on campus to become more energy conscious is going to reduce our water consumption.”

The plan is targeting a 20 percent reduction in water consumption. In order to achieve this, Abram and Lekas plan to engage the campus community in brainstorming conservation ideas; will continue to select drought-tolerant vegetation and consider conversions of grass fields to artificial turf; fine tune irrigation settings; upgrade to high-tech irrigation and meter systems; and continue plumbing fixture upgrades. The university is also considering creating more rainwater collection sites for irrigation and is exploring onsite treatment of wastewater for industrial purposes.

“These projects are important for several reasons including our need to be good stewards of our own resources — both environmental and economic — and in order to set an example for the community both internally and outside of SDSU,” Abram said.