Reducing Water Waste on Campus

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A new weather station on campus is part of a multiphase plan by Facilities Services to save water.

Last summer Tacoma Public Utilities urged its customers to cut back on water usage.  High temperatures, low rain totals, and below average snowpack lead Governor Jay Inslee to declare a drought in Washington State. 

Making adjustments  to the irrigation system  used to mean walking  around campus and manually adjusting each zone controller.“Brown is the new green” became a popular slogan as people statewide were encouraged to use less water on their lawns and plants.  “If you’re a parent or a student, that brown looks really ugly, it looks like the place isn’t taken care of,” said UW Tacoma’s Director of Facilities Services Stanley Joshua.

Joshua and his team were able to keep campus green without wasting resources by installing a Rain Bird system to control irrigation on campus.  The switch to Rain Bird was one step in a multiphase project to maximize water efficiency at UW Tacoma.  (See “Less Water, Less Electricity, Less CO2: UW Tacoma Reduces Footprint” for more on our response to last summer’s voluntary water-use reduction.)

The culmination of this effort is a new weather station that will be housed at the southern end of the Prairie Line Trail.  “The station will gather real-time information like absorption rate, evaporation rate, and temperature,” said lead gardener Kim Bode.

Bode can use this data to make adjustments to the watering schedules for different zones on campus.  The station is solar powered, wireless, and can communicate with the Rain Bird control panel.  “I can be in the field with my phone and turn on a zone or see what the numbers are,” said Bode.

The weather station should be installed by the end of April.This upgraded system allows for flexibility that didn’t exist before.  As evidence Bode sites a frequent occurrence here in Washington: rain.  Say a particular plant requires an inch of water but it already rained half an inch.  Bode can go in and adjust the setting so the sprinklers turn off after dispensing half an inch of water.

New sprinkler heads have also been installed which will help reduce water waste. “The new kind drips instead of sprays,” said Bode.  “We might have to water a little longer but this method permeates the ground better so we have to water less.” The exact reduction in cost and water use won’t be known until the entire system has been functioning for at least a season. 

The outlook for this summer is vastly different from 2015.  However, the outcome, at least on UW Tacoma’s campus will be similar.  Stanley and rest of Facility Services will do more with less.

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / April 23, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or