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MIT launches water conservation program

The utilities group in the Department of Facilities has kicked off a campus-wide program to conserve domestic water by upgrading plumbing fixtures.

"The goal is to conserve water and generate savings in payments by MIT to the City of Cambridge for water and sewer charges," according to Laxmi Rao, senior project manager for utilities.

Aqualine Resources of Newton, which has done water conservation projects at several other colleges and universities, has been hired to have toilets at 1.6 gallons per flush where possible, retrofit sink faucets with tamper-resistant aerators and retrofit showers with low-flow shower heads where possible. Bathrooms where work is being done will be closed for two to three hours.

The first phase of the work, managed by engineer Raul Varela and coordinated by Jack Narcotta (both of Facilities), includes academic buildings which have opportunities for conservation. The academic-buildings project, which is now 65 percent complete, will result in annual water savings of 18.7 million gallons. At current water rates, the projected savings in the first year alone will be $164,394.

"In recent years, water and sewer rates have increased substantially. The silver lining is that environmentally beneficial conservation measures are now financially attractive," said Peter Cooper, assistant director of Facilities for utilities.

Residential buildings will be covered in the second phase, to be overseen by Christopher Nolan, manager for renovations and construction in Housing.

"The water conservation program should result in better water use in the residential system and lead to significant savings that can be used for other residential system purposes," said Andrew Eisenmann, associate dean in Residence and Campus Activities.

In residential buildings, where work coordinated by Housing staff has just begun, Facilities expects that MIT will save 13.5 million gallons and $115,000 in the first year. Lower-flow toilets have already been in use in many graduate units (Tang, Eastgate and Westgate), and have been installed when there have been complete bathroom renovations, such as in Random Hall and Bexley.

"Feedback that we received from those houses, other houses, the Dormitory Council and housemasters included some water-pressure concerns that are unrelated to the conservation efforts. However, as a result, workers are checking the hydraulic pumps that supply water to the residences and will replace them with new electronic pumps where needed -- a measure that will improve water pressure as well as conserve water," said Dean Eiesenmann.

"In addition to the conservation of domestic water, excellent conservation opportunities exist in laboratories. They need to be exploited after careful engineering of each situation," Mr. Cooper said.

Anyone with questions or comments about the projects may send e-mail to

A version of this article appeared in the May 5, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 29).

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