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Drought Dominates NIEHS Earth Week

By Eddy Ball
June 2008

According to Liloia, using a bucket to capture water that is usually wasted as showers warm up can provide precious moisture for indoor and outdoor plants during a water shortage.
Liloia suggested using a bucket to capture water that is usually wasted as showers warm up to provide precious moisture for indoor and outdoor plants during a water shortage. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
According to Lim, Durham is considering a tiered rate structure as incentives for homeowners and commercial customers to reduce water use even further.
According to Lim, Durham is considering a tiered rate structure as incentives for homeowners and commercial customers to reduce water use even further. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

2008 NIEHS Earth Week April 22 - 24, which was organized by the Environmental Awareness Advisory Committee, featured talks, demonstrations and displays highlighting all areas of environmental sustainability - with eatable goodies, plant exchanges and live music mixed in for good measure. But not surprisingly, the bulk of this year's events on the NIEHS campus related to the ongoing effects of the past year's drought in the Triangle.

In fact, the featured talks were both drought related and hosted by NIEHS Employee Services Support Specialist Dick Sloane. On April 22, Chris Liloia, curator at the North Carolina Botanical Garden(http://ncbg.unc.edu/) Exit NIEHS Website in Chapel Hill, spoke in Rodbell Auditorium on the topic of Xeriscaping with tips on "Gardening in a Drought with Southeastern Native Plants." Two days later in Rodbell Auditorium, James Lim, water conservation officer with the City of Durham Water Department(http://www.ci.durham.nc.us/departments/wm/water_update.cfm) Exit NIEHS Website, reviewed the city's current resources and future plans and offered strategies that homeowners and laboratory managers can adopt to conserve water.

Liloia opened her talk with a statement underscoring the importance of her topic. "You're gardening in a drought pretty much all the time in this area," she said. The Triangle's growing population, she noted, has elevated gardening with drought-resistant plants from a responsible thing to do to a true necessity for homeowners who could easily lose substantial investments in plants during periods of water shortage.

Following a review of the educational and public service programs offered by the N. C. Botanical Garden, Liloia reviewed the qualities of the major drought-resistant ornamental plants in the state(http://ncbg.unc.edu/pages/96/) Exit NIEHS Website and tips on finding sources locally.

Lim's talk ranged from statistics about daily water usage and the city's reservoir system to plans for increasing capacity by building an intake for Durham's allotment at Jordan Lake and raising the dam at Lake Michie. He directed his small, but inquisitive audience to management graphs at the department's Web site, which help the City determine what conservation measures are required based on current lake levels and historical patterns.

Although recent rains seem to indicate that the drought has broken and Durham now has more than 300 days supply, Lim insisted that the area is far from being over the long-term effects of a shortage of rain fall. "We are getting very near to the drought months," he explained, pointing to the need for building resources in anticipation of dry months ahead. "The flows in the Flat and Little Rivers are still below normal," he added, and the soil is still very dry just a few inches below surface.

In addition to the tips for the homeowner that were prominent throughout Earth Week events, Lim had specific advice for laboratories. They included eliminating single-pass cooling, using fewer cycles for dishwashers, over-riding automatic sterilizing and continuous water cycling, and re-using cooling water for other non-potable applications.

NIEHS Rises to the Occasion with Water Conservation Measures

For male employees, one of the most visible of NIEHS water conservation measures is the waterless urinal that is popping up in restrooms all over campus. However, behind the scenes, the Institute is pursuing several initiatives to cut down on wasted water. These measures are being taken where feasible and appropriate without affecting sanitation or the health or safety of employees and laboratory animals.

  • Eliminating irrigation, except for spot use of water from the lake, and reducing window washing, government vehicle washing and mopping.
  • Along with installing waterless urinals and low-flow shower heads, adding waterless hand sanitizer dispensers to bathrooms and break rooms and disabling auto-flushing of commodes where appropriate. In labs, installing water reducing aerators on most lab sink faucets.
  • Optimizing central plant cooling tower operation, replacing water-cooled lab air compressors and modifying central plant chiller operations. Retrofitting autoclaves to lower water consumption.
  • Introducing operating procedures to decrease water usage for cleaning histology slides and delay cafeteria dishwashing until there are full loads to run. Modifying glassware washing procedures and cage-washing procedures to reduce washer loads
  • Boosting surveillance of underground utility piping leaks and cafeteria equipment leaks
  • Delaying maintenance of building systems and routine fire pump and hydrant flow testing
  • Promoting water conservation through all-hands educational e-mails to employees and contractors


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