Campus water use is high, particularly in residence halls, at a time when The U.S. Drought Monitor (operating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) estimates that as much as 60 percent of the contiguous United States is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. Thirty-seven percent of that area was at drought levels as of April, an increase from 27 percent a year ago.
That's why it is more important than ever to conserve this precious natural resource, and colleges and universities are stepping up to save.
At the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, for example, toilets and water fixtures have been replaced with low-flow units, saving 26 million gallons of water a year. And at Eastern Illinois University, water consumption has been cut by more than 50 percent after the school invested nearly $100 million in improving the campus' energy and water efficiency.
But conservation is as much about behavioral change as it is about saving money. The recently concluded Campus Conservation Nationals proved once again that colleges and universities can learn to conserve. Now in its second year, the CCN is a competition that challenged 152 college and university campuses to achieve the greatest electricity and water use reductions during a three-week period.
On the whole, the participating colleges and universities saved 1,554,814 gallons of water (with Indiana University responsible
for more than half of that amount). That’s the equivalent of 9,950,809 20-ounce water bottles.
And speaking of water bottles, many schools are taking steps to eliminate the ubiquitous, landfill-clogging plastic bottles. More than 90 higher education institutions, including Harvard, Brown, and the University of Vermont, have banned or restricted the sale of plastic water bottles. Brown, which sold about 320,000 bottles of water a year in vending machines and campus stores, still keeps a supply of 50,000 bottles in reserve in the event of natural disaster.
To dissuade students from switching to bottled sweetened beverages instead, schools like the University of Iowa and Mount Mercy College are issuing reusable water bottles to incoming students, and installing bottle refill stations around campus.
The change has not come without resistance, however. The International Bottled Water Association is fighting back with a YouTube video campaign against "anti-bottled water activism on college campuses," decrying the loss of "freedom of choice."