Duke and the Drought

January 31, 2008
All dried up: Durham's municipal reservoir

All dried up: Durham's municipal reservoir on the Little River; the dock, upper left, is usually afloat. The News & Observer

The Southeast is facing its worst drought in more than a century, and Durham is no exception.

The city, like most in the region, has continued to bump up water-use restrictions. Early in the fall, North Carolina's governor called on citizens to cut back water use by 30 percent. And in early December, with fewer than sixty days' worth of water remaining in Durham, the city moved to cut private water use in half.

Duke, the largest consumer of water in the county, has demonstrated a long-term commitment to conservation, but administrators note that additional large cuts are challenging, especially considering that medical facilities—where cuts could be potentially dangerous—account for almost half of water use at Duke. Still, members of the Duke community took many new steps, some large and some small, to cut down their water use, including:

  • Residence Life added waterless hand sanitizers to residence-hall bathrooms.
  • Several campus eateries switched from china and silverware to disposable utensils and dishware to save on dishwashing. The move saves 800 gallons a day at the Great Hall and Marketplace alone.
  • Duke Gardens turned off its automatic watering systems and ornamental water features, watered seasonal beds using water from one of the gardens' ponds, and added mulch to reduce evaporation from planted beds.
  • The Duke University Golf Club, whose course was already irrigated using mostly storm water runoff, limited watering to putting greens.
  • Facilities Management limited vehicle washing to windows only.
  • Workers made an adjustment at the chilled water plant on campus that saves 9,000 gallons daily.
  • The university announced a $5 million fund for conservation projects; the first involved distributing free low-flow showerheads to employees.
  • Administrators e-mailed students with water-saving tips such as turning off faucets while shaving or lathering hands with soap.

"More than anything … it is human behavior that will have the greatest impact on water usage—and making choices about when, why, and how to use water," Eddie Hull, dean of residence life, told The Chronicle.

Thinking ahead to long-term solutions, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions presented a report (www.duke.edu/sustainability/water) to state officials identifying six strategies for improving water management and conservation.