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Water Usage Study
by Josephine Lai & Wendy Lee


During the Spring 97 semester, we carried out a water usage study on the Jonnson -Rowland Science Center. The purpose of the study is academic and economical. A decrease in Science Center's water usage would be beneficial to both the environment and the economy of RPI. From an environmental standpoint, reduced use of water reduces demand on the Tommahanock Reservoir, the Buckley Water Treatment Plant, and the Rensselaer County Sewage Treatment Plant. Economic concerns have been raised by the steady increase in water price since 1991. In 1991, the cost of water began to rise and has continued to rise every year since. In this project, we performed a water audit that involves monitoring water use, reading water meters, recording major areas of water use, investigating methods to reduce use, and an informational campaign towards the end of the semester. The campaign consists of a summary of our findings and a report that includes ways in which students and other Science Center users can save water.
GOALSOne of our main goals is to let people know that saving water can improve their own lives, not just for the benefit of the school. We also want them to see how much money can be saved if they cut their use of water, eliminate the use of open-loop cooling and cleaning systems, and change conventional fixtures into low-flow ones.
HOW TO ACCOMPLISH THE GOALSTo accomplish the above goals, there are a number of things that we could do. First of all, we proposed a format for presenting the data. Basically, we have the professors interview reports, their brief project descriptions, our diary, posters and stickers, graphs and charts, and our conclusions and suggestions. Then we began our real tasks by interviewing the professors and gathering information from the labs. Surveys were distributed and then collected in order to compile the data. Posters were designed and printed. Estimates and suggestions were made according to the information collected. We coordinated with Nicole Farkas, the Water Coordinator, in progressing the project. Regular meetings were held where Nicole guided us in approaching our goals.
MAJOR OBSTACLES AND OVERCOMING THEMWe found difficulties in contacting the professors at first and asking them to return the surveys. Several professors were concerned about the water problem and felt that water conservation should be encouraged. We greatly appreciate Professor Gwo-ching Wang, Professor Bruce Watson and Professor Xi-cheng Zhang for their help. On the other hand, some others refused to support the act of saving water. Professor Jane Koretz refused to have an interview. We tried our best to explain to them the benefits of water conservation to human beings as a whole. We were also unclear about our goals and objectives at first, but this was clear ed out after we looked into the Cogswell report and further discussed how to approach the project with Nicole. Misunderstanding between the maintenance people and us resulted in problems with regular meter readings. Meters were sometimes not read, but regular readings we nt on fine after we got it straight with them.


After a whole semester's research, interviews, meter readings, calculations and presentations, we came to the following results and findings. Based on the surveys received, the measurement of water flows in labs and the meter readings, we found that, as expected, the major use of water in Science Center is in opened-loop systems, which accounts for 70% of the total use. This amounts to $12197 per fiscal year! If closed-loop systems are implemented, more than 50% of the water can be saved, i.e. more than $5400 can be saved each year. Of all the opened-loop system users, Professor Watson of the Earth & Environmental Science Department topped the list. His experiments, which involve high temperatures and pressures, use 16000 gallons of water per week. Professor Watson is also concerned about the water usage involved in his reseach. His investigations into water conserving practices were hampered by the change in Science Center infrastructure that would be required to install a closed-loop system. Professor Zhang' s ultrafast optoelectronics laboratory also use a large amount of water. In order to cool the lasers in his lab, 14400 gallons of water is used every week. This use could potentially be put on a closed-loop system. Although we interviewed all the professors who used large amounts of water in their research and laboratory this semester, there are still some of them who will use large amounts of water in the coming semesters. Professor Haynes is an example. His research is based on a bi-yearly basis. He even told us that the sudden jump in water usage in 1991 is because of his research in that particular year. Future research on the water usage in Science Center should note this point. Besides cooling systems, pipette washers also contribute to opened-loop cooling. Pipette washers are present in rooms 3W09, 3W12, 3W02, BC17, and BC21. Water flows continuously into the washers and drained out. Approximately 2000 gallons of water per week is used. Around 15% of water is used in toilets and by janitors. This accounts for $2745 per year. 500 gallons are used every week to mop all the floors and stairs. Conventional faucets and toilets are installed on each floor. Assuming 4 flushes per person per day, 8000 gallons of water per week is used. The next main water usage in Science Center is in experimental usage. This amounts to approximately $1844 per year. Experimental usage includes utility cleaning, water distilling and deionizing. Other uses such as hand washing, accounted for the other 3%. Leakage is also taken into account as some of the labs we visited and recorded have leakage in their taps, 3W12 and 3C30 are examples. Moreover, there is a constant leakage in the water meter which flows 100 mL per minute. This amount of water, we believe, is not being metered. As we mentioned before, weekly meter readings were recorded. Throughout the weeks from 3/3/97 to 4/30/97, a decrease in the water use is evident. This is surely a good sign! There is a decrease from 91380 gallons to 78483 gallons in water usage. Further conclusions and findings are illustrated in the charts and graphs attached.


Data on water usage in Science Center was collected for the first time. This provided valuable information for further research and investigation into the possibility of installing closed-loop cooling and cleaning systems in the building. We also gained a lot of experience in interviewing professors and other staff, calculating and predicting water usage and savings, presenting data and information and conveying our ideas in the key executive poster session held in the Alumni House. Seeing the drop in water use really encourages us to move towards our goals. We definitely hope that water usage can continue to drop, not only in Science Center, but also in other buildings. All in all, this project is in fact a memorable and valuable experience for both of us.


Mid-Jan, 1997

The format for presenting data was proposed.
Interview with Dr. Sam Wait, Building Coordinator, Science Center.
1 page memo was sent to Dr. Wait who in turn forwarded it to corresponding professors. Appointments with professors were made.

Early-Feb, 1997

First interview with one of the professors.
Surveys distributed.

Mid-Feb, 1997

Interviews and tours continued.
Surveys started to get in.
Posters designed.
Began regular meetings with Nicole.

Late-Feb, 1997

Compiled received surveys and data.
Reported progress in Ecologic Meeting.
Interviews and tours continued.

Early-Mar, 1997 Regular meter reading started.
Interviews and surveys continued.

Late-Mar, 1997 Final round of interviews and surveys.
Checked other rooms, e.g. toilets.
Put up posters and stickers.

Early-Apr, 1997

Prepared for poster session.
Compiled surveys and findings.

Late-Apr, 1997

Further compilation of data and findings.
Final preparation of report.


Through this project, we were able to raise the professors', the students' and the staff's awareness of the water issue. In fact, we ourselves were not aware of the immense amount of money that is spent every year on water on campus until after we got involved in this project.

There are a number of skills that we learned from this project. We learned how to plan our project, to arrange meetings with professors, to encounter them and to convey to them the importance of conserving water. Problem solving skills are what we found most useful during the project, too.

The most important point of the project, besides the fact that we raised the water conservation awareness, is that we collected data for the first time on a campus building that will be useful for further campus planning. This water conservation project is indeed a memorable experience for both of us.

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