UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, May 2021

Drought on the Way: Join UCSF in Being Water-Wise

Recently there has been so much national news that you may have missed news about California’s current water shortage and impending drought. As reported in an April article in The Guardian, snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges is 40% below average levels, meaning there isn’t enough to replenish groundwater supplies, fill reservoirs, or feed rivers and streams—and “California is at the edge of another protracted drought.”

The article paints a bleak picture. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain notes that it’s the second extremely dry year in a row in California and that water cuts and more destructive extreme wildfires are likely. Part of the challenge is that the water system is already strained. The last drought hasn’t ended for some of California’s farming communities; some are still getting water delivered by trucks. Groundwater reserves that millions of households rely on have never fully recovered. So much water is being drawn from the Bay Delta that native fish species are declining. “There just isn’t enough water to go around,” according to UCI water management researcher Nicola Ulibarri.

The situation calls for conservation, and fortunately there are actions the UCSF community can take to prepare for drought and reduce water use. For many years UCSF has focused on implementing measures to achieve water use reductions, and as shared in the 2020 Sustainability Report, UCSF Campus has reduced its use 53% since 2007, exceeding UC’s goal of 36% by 2025. It is developing several new water conservation projects, including a water efficient equipment incentive program for labs. There are also water conservation measures UCSF community members can implement at home to make a difference. Read on to learn more.

UCSF Makes Campus Equipment More Water-Wise

According to Eli Perszyk, Water Program Manager, UCSF reduces water consumption by installing new, more efficient equipment and retrofitting equipment to make it more efficient, often collaborating with Campus researchers. Past projects at the Parnassus Central Utility Plant (PCUP) and the Mission Bay Helen Diller Building are achieving sizable water savings. At the PCUP, water is purified and distributed to campus buildings, creating reject water. A system that collects this reject water and repurposes it in the plant’s cooling towers was installed, offsetting the use of potable water and saving an estimated 3-4 million gallons per year. The Helen Diller building’s two bulk lab equipment sterilizers were replaced with more efficient models, which saves 12 million gallons per year. 

Currently, a pilot project is underway at Mission Bay’s Genentech Hall and Byers Hall to retrofit lab faucets with flow restrictors, reducing the flow from 3-4gpm (gallons per minute) to 1.5gpm at no cost to researchers. Eight labs are currently participating, and any labs that are interested should .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Another project in development at Mission Bay would replace the steam traps to reduce steam loss, saving an estimated 271,00 gallons of water annually. Three buildings on campus (Genentech Hall, Byers Hall, and Rock Hall) will have 1gpf (gallons per flush) urinals replaced with 0.125gpf urinals, which will save an estimated one million gallons per year. At the Parnassus campus, an assessment is currently being carried out to determine whether a rainwater catchment system can be implemented. 

Facilities Services is offering a rebate of up to $5,000 on new equipment that uses less water, with a priority to replace old sterilizers and other lab equipment. UCSF Campus labs can .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to participate and also take advantage of rebates from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

UCSF is employing water conservation measures in its landscaping practices as well, such as using drought-tolerant native plants, mulch, drip irrigation and a smart irrigation system that shuts down in case of leaks and breaks. 

UCSF’s current goal is to reduce water consumption by 2% each year. Perszyk says, “Making the reductions that we need to make will be a team effort, and we’re looking forward to working with everyone.”

Five Actions You Can Take to Conserve Water

 Whether you live in a house with a yard or live in an apartment, there’s something that everyone can do to use less water. Actions like taking shorter showers and turning off the tap are great and still needed—but, if you can do something a bit more radical and systemic, now might be just the time to go big with your conservation efforts!

1. Replace your old water-hogging toilet

Do you still have one of those vintage 1930s toilets? Older, inefficient toilets can use up to six gallons of water per flush. Consider a new low-flow, water-efficient one like a WaterSense toilet that uses only 1.28 gallons per flush—you could save almost 13,000 gallons of water per year. If you’re a renter, you can save water too by installing a toilet tank bag and checking toilets for leaks.

 2. Lose your lawn 

With irrigation using about 9 billion gallons of water a day in the U.S., replacing your lawn with a less water intensive landscape will make a huge difference! BAWSCA is offering a “Lawn Be Gone!” rebate in several Bay Area cities, EBMUD offers a lawn conversion rebate for East Bay residents, and Marin Water has a Landscape Your Lawn program for Marin residents. For inspiration, check out the now classic Food Not Lawns book and movement that sprouted up from it.

3. Install a laundry-to-landscape greywater system

Ready for an exciting DIY project? Reusing your laundry water to irrigate your landscape is legal in California and doesn’t require a building permit in certain cases where specific requirements are followed. Greywater Action and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission provide information and resources, including webinars and a rebate program for San Francisco residents.  Marin Water is offering a rebate for Marin residents.

4. Create a water-wise landscape

Installing rain gardens, mulching and composting, planting drought-tolerant native vegetation, putting in drip irrigation—the possibilities for water-smart gardening are endless. Things like fixing irrigation leaks and having the right irrigation schedule are essential, too. Find a ton of ideas and resources at bayareagardening.org, the EPA’s WaterSense program and SF WaterPowerSewer.

5. Capture and repurpose shower water

Did you know that a five-gallon bucket is all you need to start saving a lot of water today? Even if you don’t own a home where you can make structural changes, you can implement a water recycling system by collecting the water from your shower while it’s heating up. Put that would-be-wasted shower water to good use by watering your plants with it, flushing the toilet with it, or using it to mop your floors.