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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC may set new environmental standards based on water goal

A water droplet reflects the Old Well. UNC has a new goal to bring net water usage down to zero.

A water droplet reflects the Old Well. UNC has a new goal to bring net water usage down to zero.

Brad Ives, associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises, said the concept of water neutrality lacks a concrete definition.

“We think we need to set some standards about water neutrality, and that there are going to be different levels of water neutrality, and we wanted to find those,” he said. “That’s part of what this effort is about.”

Sustainability Office Director Cindy Shea said the University has achieved a near balance between the water it uses and the natural water cycle through a series of recent environmental upgrades.

“The ways that we’ve achieved that in recent years are to invest in water efficiency, to capture and harvest rainwater for reuse and to use reclaimed water instead of drinking water,” she said.

Ives said by some standards, the University already met the water neutrality goal.

“For example, right now we can say that we are, in fact, water neutral, based on the amount of rainfall that falls on the campus every year is more than sufficient for the amount of drinking water that we use,” he said.

Shea said further analytics are necessary before the University can determine for certain which water neutrality standards have been met.

Nikki Behnke, co-president of A Drink for Tomorrow at UNC, a clean water advocacy group run by students, said water neutrality should be defined by an institution’s impact on the water cycle.

“The thing is that human impact on the water cycle has made it so that (natural replenishment) is thrown off, and the natural processes aren’t working as they’re supposed to,” she said.

“So you’re getting things like acid rain, and you’re getting droughts, and you’re getting floods, and it’s being thrown off by human activities.”

The water goal is one of UNC’s three new environmental goals. The University also wants to minimize waste stored in landfills and to become greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050.

Ives said UNC has one of the most sophisticated systems for conserving and recycling water in the world, given the amount of rainfall it receives.

Stormwater engineer Sally Hoyt said in an email that UNC’s water use intensity in gallons per square foot declined by 47 percent between fiscal year 2002-03 and fiscal year 2014-15, and potable water use decreased 30 percent because UNC is using recycled, non-potable water in some scenarios instead.

Behnke said since water usage occurs mostly behind the scenes, people often don’t realize they are using too much water.

She said thinking about water is important because it is a prerequisite for every other resource.

“People always joke about, like, ‘save water, drink beer,’ but that’s actually not true because it takes hundreds of gallons to produce beer,” she said. “(Water) goes into the production of everything.”

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