As state leaders raise awareness of Utah’s drought conditions, Canyons School District is redoubling efforts to conserve water.
Building upon a successful “Water Manager” internship program that has saved upwards of 20 million gallons of water annually for the past six years, mathematically-inclined high school students this summer will undergo training on tracking water usage with the aim of applying just enough H2O to CSD’s 371 acres of greenspace to preserve the use of high-use areas, such as playfields.
The students learn about evapotranspiration, or how much water is being lost due to evaporation from the land and plants, explains CSD Energy Engineer Christopher Eppler who created the internship program in 2015 in partnership with the Utah Water Conservancy District. Then they visit school campuses to monitor sprinkling systems and perform measurements and watering calculations based on the soil moisture, relative humidity and temperature. The calculations, Eppler says, bring greater precision to school watering schedules with the goal being to apply the least amount of water needed to keep fields healthy.
“The careful monitoring by these teams, combined with our state-of-the-art water flow sensors and sprinkling systems, has saved millions of gallons of water, putting us in a good position to meet whatever future conservation goals are deemed necessary by our state and local partners,” Eppler said.
The water needs of a school district are significant due, in large part, to the grassy fields maintained for school and club sports, and community recreation. “The public gets a lot of use out of these fields, and we take seriously our stewardship of these community assets,” Eppler says. “We also take seriously our stewardship of natural resources and taxpayer dollars. This internship program helps us conserve both while introducing students to concepts that could apply to jobs in public works, planning, landscape ecology, or environmental science.”
The first year of the internship program, it’s estimated the students saved 24 million gallons of water. In 2016, 19 million gallons were saved, and savings have continued to accrue each year.
Last year, Eppler’s interns set the optimal water usage for CSD’s 29 elementary schools at 143 million gallons. “With their continued monitoring and adjustments, we were able to ratchet down our water use even further, and ended the year at 134 million gallons,” Eppler says.
Investments made to replace the football fields at CSD’s five high schools with artificial turf have further reduced CSD’s water usage.
Among other conservation measures, CSD’s maintenance crews have raised their mower blades to allow fields to grow to 4 inches, helping the sod to better retain moisture. They also aerate fields twice a year and apply a slow-release fertilizer to control growth. These measures help maximize the sod’s drought tolerance.
Facility managers walk the fields daily, looking for malfunctioning sprinklers or dry spots. Eppler says, patrons are also encouraged to report any issues they see on school property, such as puddling or misaligned sprinkler heads by calling 801-826-5175 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Every drop counts, and everyone has a role to play in being water smart,” he says.