Texas A&M Adds Users But Still Saves Water

Even with the addition of thousands of students and hundreds of faculty and new teaching and research facilities to support them, Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, has managed drastic drops in water and energy consumption, making the nation's sixth-largest university a campus conservation leader.

Over the past 16 years, Texas A&M has cut its total annual water consumption by 53 percent (from 3.5 billion gallons in 1991 to 1.6 billion gallons in 2007), all while serving a significant increase in customers and more than 25 percent additional building square footage. Texas A&M has reduced its annual energy consumption by 20 percent over the past five years, saving the university approximately $50 million in energy costs and reducing carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by 338 million pounds.

The university now has an enrollment of more than 46,000 and approximately 10,000 faculty and staff on its 5,200-acre campus.

Texas A&M Director for Utilities Jim Riley said the reductions were accomplished through the implementation of many operational changes and improvements in the university's water and energy facilities. "Over the past decade, we have completely changed our way of thinking about water and energy efficiency," Riley said. "Water and energy are precious resources, and even if they are available, we don't want to use more than we have to."

The most significant water and energy-saving improvements have been in the university's utility plant operations. Texas A&M self-generates much of its own electricity in its four utility plants, which are also the single biggest consumer of water because they require water for building heating and cooling processes, Riley said. The university has invested $75 million since 2000 in utility system upgrades to increase capacity and improve both reliability and efficiency. Another addition planned for 2008 is a new performance optimization program – a dynamic real-time evaluation tool used to monitor the hundreds of inputs from electric meters, flow meters, temperature sensors, and other monitoring devices to optimize the efficiency of utility plant operations, Riley said.

Texas A&M reduced water use through the implementation in 1993 of a policy to install low-flow plumbing fixtures (toilets, showers, and sinks) in all new building construction and renovation projects.

The university improved management of campus irrigation systems through automation. In 2002, Texas A&M also installed new non-potable (non-drinking) water wells and delivery systems to serve Brayton Fire Training School and the TAMU Golf Course. "By isolating those systems, we not only save money by not having to treat the water, but we can also manage the drinking water system more closely and reduce water consumption," Riley said.

In the future, Texas A&M officials also hope to reuse water from its wastewater treatment plant for the university's non-potable water systems. "We're pumping water from the ground and using it on campus as efficiently as possible. Then, much of the water goes to the sanitary sewer system and wastewater treatment plant," Riley said. "But if we were to bring back the majority of that treated wastewater and put it into non-potable reuse, that would directly reduce the amount of water we have to pump out of the ground."