Mason Takes Steps to Conserve Water amid Drought Conditions

Posted: November 6, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

Amid the bright yellows, oranges and reds of the changing leaves this season, it may not be readily apparent that the entire Commonwealth of Virginia is experiencing a significant drought, which intensified in the six weeks before the recent widespread rainfall. While this rain addressed many short-term drought impacts, the underlying long-term precipitation deficit remains.

Gov. Timothy Kaine is urging localities to update water conservation and drought contingency ordinances and plans and begin preparations to implement these plans. Citizens and businesses are also encouraged to voluntarily conserve as much water as possible, which includes making sure there are no leaks in plumbing, not watering lawns, taking shorter showers, turning off the water when brushing teeth and only operating dishwashers and clothes washers with full loads.

As winter approaches, the commonwealth will see the end of the active growing season and the water needs of actively growing plants and human needs for most outdoor water uses will diminish greatly. However, if weather predictions of a dry winter turn out to be true, Virginia could experience a significant drought that extends into the spring of 2008.

Although Mason has never experienced water shortages, it is the largest user of water in the City of Fairfax and supplies water for its three campuses from local water plants. In 2006, Mason consumed about 117 million gallons of water for drinking, showering, restrooms, cooking, cleaning, temperature control, irrigation and for the aquatic centers. The water Mason used last year cost the university $340,517.

In response to the governor’s call to action, Mason is taking preventative measures to deal with the ongoing drought. According to Steve Morehouse, senior associate director of facilities for Housing and Residence Life, an e-mail was sent to students living in the residence halls asking that they voluntarily limit their water usage when taking showers, brushing their teeth and doing the laundry.

“Since we are in the middle of a drought, students need to be mindful of their water usage,” says Morehouse. “If conditions continue to get worse, we may have to use non-voluntary methods to conserve water.”

Water-saving techniques have been instituted in all the residence halls. These include showers with low-flow showerheads, toilets that have been reduced to using one gallon per flush, and sinks that have been reduced from using two gallons to one fourth of a gallon. Overall, water usage has reduced 16 percent and 21 percent in cost. Any buildings that are currently under construction have also been equipped with these methods of conserving water.

In addition, most of the sprinklers used to water the grass have been turned off since September. Although the fountains are still operating, Larry Spaine, director of Facilities Management, notes that they are running on recycled water.

“It’s important that Mason set an example to conserve water in any way it can,” says Spaine. “When we are experiencing a significant drought like we are at the moment, it’s important that everyone learn to respect the environment.”

For more information, contact Spaine at 703-993-2542.

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