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SUU water conservation pays off

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CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah University has recorded the first results of a water conservation effort that show a three-month savings of more than 7 million gallons.

That represents a savings of 28 percent on the SUU campus through an efficient new sprinkler system, said Gordon Slack, director of plant operations.

The savings in water is sufficient to satisfy the drinking needs of all 31,000 people living in Iron County. Slack said.

"That's 225 gallons of water for each resident of our county, more than 10 glasses of water a day for a year," said SUU spokesman Dean O'Driscoll. "That's an amazing savings." He credits extra effort by a lot of people to create the efficient system.

Last summer, during the months of April, May and June the university used just more than 25 million gallons of water. The information just in for the same period this year show usage had dropped to 18 million gallons.

The savings is a direct result of a new computer-aided sprinkler system called Maxicom. The University borrowed $75,000 from the state energy office two years ago to purchase the equipment to run the system. The grounds crew, electricians and others then saved another $75,000 by installing the system themselves.

It has taken nearly two years to make the system fully operational because of the labor involved.

"It was not only installing 38 clocks around the 130-acre campus," said Slack, "but it was also installing all of the sensors to go with the clocks, which feed the main computer the information. The electricians had to find some truly innovative ways to do things. They had to install both power and phone lines to communicate with the computer."

The main computer for the system is situated near its own weather station on west campus where all pertinent climatological data is collected. It takes into account recent rain, humidity, heat, and even wind speed to calculate how much water has evaporated and how much additional water the grass needs.

"I guarantee, we are definitely not over-watering anymore," says Slack.

The next quarter, including July, August and September, are the highest use months and Slack anticipates even bigger savings for the campus and community.

"I'm proud of the fact," Slack said, "that we were the only institution in the state that didn't have to go in last year and ask for supplemental fuel and energy money."

The university also has saved tens of thousands in energy bills with the installation of smaller and more efficient chillers, variable speed motors that work according to demand instead of constantly at top speed, and a change in the use and distribution of natural gas that cut the number of meters on campus from 35 to just one.