UC Berkeley plans to reduce water usage by 65 million gallons by 2020

Toilets Illustration Infographic
Anna Vignet/Senior Staff

Since dozens of toilets and urinals in University Hall were converted a few months ago to use less water, the hall has seen a significant drop in its water consumption — just a small part of the campus’s overall water conservation goal.

There, UC Berkeley has begun work in its quest to significantly taper its campuswide water use. The campus is aiming to cut its water usage by over 65 million gallons by 2020.

Last spring, the campus spent about $14,500 to retrofit 41 toilets and 16 urinals in the hall to low-flow — meaning they now use about two fewer gallons of water with each flush.

The work was completed in May with funds from the campus Vice Chancellors’ Administrative Council that were granted to the Office of Sustainability for sustainability projects, according to Christine Shaff, communications manager for the campus Facilities Services department.

Following the changes, there was a 20 percent average reduction in the hall’s June and July water consumption as compared to the same months in 2010, according to Shaff.

The project is part of the campus’s plan to bring its water usage to 10 percent below 2008 levels by 2020 — a goal set by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau in April.

The goal applies only to potable water — water that is safe for humans to drink — and amounts to a reduction of about 65 million gallons.

Expanding the toilet retrofits to other buildings, such as Dwinelle Hall, where a project is currently under way, could go a long way toward obtaining Birgeneau’s objective.

“That’s one of the quickest and easiest steps,” said Ellen Hanak, a senior policy fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California with expertise in water policy. “It’s a good cost-effective measure, usually, because especially in facilities that have a lot of people using the restrooms, you’re saving a lot of gallons every day, and it also doesn’t rely on behavioral changes.”

According to a December 2010 report issued by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability — a group of students, faculty and staff charged with advising the chancellor on various environmental issues — retrofitting 75 percent of the campus’s toilets to low-flow fixtures would save about 25.9 million gallons of water annually, while doing the same for urinals would save about 5.6 million gallons annually.

The conserved water would translate into dollar savings as well. According to the report, net annual savings for the toilet and urinal conversions would be $115,482 and $25,109, respectively.

Other projects suggested by that report include enhanced leak reduction efforts and general education about water conservation on campus. If the campus implemented all of the report’s recommendations, the upfront costs would be about $1.5 million but would save approximately $225,000 annually.

Though the campus is actively working to achieve a set conservation target, its water consumption has already been on a steady decline over the last two decades.

According to the 2011 Campus Sustainability Report, water use on campus has dropped 15.5 percent since 1990.

Scaling down water use is important for a host of reasons, including the energy associated with moving water around as well as the price of doing so, said Lisa McNeilly, the campus director of sustainability.

During times of drought, moreover, the price of water can skyrocket as the supply is concurrently restricted by the water provider.

“It gets to the heart of what sustainability is — that we should be paying attention to how much water there really is available to us in our watershed and work to not exceed that,” McNeilly said. “Just like with electricity, the cheapest gallon of water is the one that you don’t use.”

Though the movement toward lower water consumption will likely become systemwide policy, progress on establishing a reduction target for each campus is flowing at a slower pace.

The UC Sustainability Steering Committee — composed of administrators from across the 10-campus system and the UC Office of the President, as well as sustainability experts — has decided to collect more data over the next year before possibly implementing a systemwide policy, according to Matthew St. Clair, the sustainability manager for UCOP.

According to St. Clair, UC Berkeley is the first campus to set a water reduction goal for sustainability purposes.

“Berkeley was actually a role model for this systemwide development of a water policy,” he said.

J.D. Morris is the lead environment reporter.

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  • Jdominy

    I love seeing universities and school districts step up and do their part to protect the environment. Water conservation is so crucial in our society right now.  This effort from UC Berkeley is a huge step in the right direction. Really happy to see this.  For organizations and companies who are currently using or switching to waterless urinals — help take “green living” a step further by installing eco-friendly plumbing and urinal products.  LiquidBreaker manufacturers urinals, drain valves, cleaning products, and cartridges (named The Green Cartridge) which are all “green” products and earth-conscious.


  • Anonymous

    UC Berkeley reduce the cost of providing higher education: paying more is not a better education.

    Current pay increases
    for generously paid University
    of California Faculty is
    arrogance. Instate tuition consumes 14% of Ca. Median Family Income!

    UC Berkeley (ranked #
    70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed the national average rate of increases. Chancellor
    Birgeneau has molded Cal.
    into the most expensive public university.

    University of California President
    Yudof and Chancellor
    Birgeneau($450,000 salary) have dismissed many much needed cost-cutting
    options. They did not consider freezing vacant faculty positions, increasing
    class size, requiring faculty to teach more classes, doubling the time between
    sabbaticals, cutting and freezing pay and benefits for all chancellors and reforming
    the pension system.

    They said such faculty
    reforms “would not be healthy for University
    of California”. Exodus of
    faculty and administrators? Who can afford them and where would they go?

    We agree it is far
    from the ideal situation, but it is in the best interests of the university
    system and the state to hold the line on cost increases. UC cannot expect to do
    business as usual: raising tuition; granting pay raises and huge bonuses during
    a weak economy that has sapped state revenues and individual Californians’

    There is no
    question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful. Regent Chairwoman Lansing can bridge the public trust
    gap with reassurances that salaries and costs reflect California’s economic reality. The sky above UC will not fall


    Opinions? Email the UC Board
    of Regents   [email protected]

    • Guest

      Don’t you have anything better to do than post this same nonsense on here day after day?

  • Guest

    As long as we don’t have sewer problems like in San Francisco.


  • the devil

    How much less water will they spray on the astroturf on Underhill and Kleeberger? When UC talks about cutbacks and savings, they always seem to only do it where it hurts essentials while ignoring real waste and luxury.