University irrigation system at odds with construction sites — and squirrels

Emily O'Toole

Despite recent rainfall, sprinklers near Speedway continue to water plants and walkways at night, contrary to water conservation efforts by the University.

The University has not yet been given control of the sprinklers near the construction sites on Speedway, said Markus Hogue, irrigation and water conservation program coordinator. As a result, UT is currently unable to adjust irrigation to rainfall or drought as it does in other areas on campus not under construction.

“There are sections that are … still underneath the contractor working on an area,” Hogue said. “They haven’t turned it over to us to maintain. When we take ownership of it … we put it underneath the umbrella of our system that starts monitoring and watching what’s going on.”

Last spring, UT won a Texas Environmental Excellence Award for modernizing its irrigation system, decreasing University water usage by 66 percent over the last six years. Once construction ends on Speedway, projected for spring 2018, UT is expected to get control of that area and incorporate it into that irrigation system, Hogue said.

Psychology junior Natalya Doria said she has noticed the numerous construction sites on campus, such as the renovations of Rowling Hall and Welch Hall, have the potential to get in the way of conservation efforts.

“There are a lot of locations … that are being constructed,” Doria said. “It makes sense that construction would tamper with (irrigation).”

As for current practices to conserve water, Hogue said Landscape Services monitor rainfall to adjust the irrigation system. 

“If there’s a rain event going on during irrigation, we’ll shut the irrigation down,” Hogue said. “We’ve got moisture sensors in the ground as well, so we can actually see the water level in the soil, and we’ll have about 100 of those installed by the end of the year.”

Patrick Mazur, a technical staff associate for the Energy and Water Conservation Program, said his group examines water usage on campus in conjunction with Utilities and Energy Management by comparing the consumption of water in individual buildings across months.

“If the change and value is outside of a threshold, it’ll flag it.” Mazur said. “The point is, we’re trying to identify if there’s some higher usage than normal. If so, then we go to a building and try to figure out what’s causing that.”

Hogue said the University continues to make adjustments for environmental changes, but one factor is a bit harder to adjust to.

“We’re working with the squirrels — they tend to do a lot of damage,” Hogue said. “They chew on my irrigation all the time.”