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Sustainable Water Use

Stanford practices sustainable water use by managing available resources to meet university needs while preserving ecological systems and maintaining this vital resource for future generations. Stanford’s water conservation program is one of the most aggressive in the Bay Area, and has resulted in more than 20 percent reduction of the university's water supply in the past decade, despite more than 2.5 million square feet of new campus facilities.

Stanford regularly collaborates with regional water agencies on all aspects of water management and monitoring efforts to determine sustainable yields from regional water sources. The university receives potable water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which draws water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the Sierra Nevada as well as other reservoirs in local watersheds. Stanford uses local surface water and well water to provide non-potable irrigation water to the campus. Nearly 85 percent of campus irrigation water comes from creeks and wells on Stanford land, preserving treated or potable drinking water for domestic purposes.

Goals & Results

Key goals are to continuously improve our successful water conservation program, develop new strategies to maximize use of surface runoff and preserve treated domestic water for critical campus uses, and protect water-dependent habitat.

The university completed a multitude of major water efficiency retrofit projects in the past decade to push down average domestic use from 2.7 million gallons per day (mgd) in 2001 to 2.1 mgd in 2014, despite campus growth. Other results include:

  • A new Central Energy Facility that uses 70% less potable water than the previous energy facility. 
  • A majority of campus grounds and landscaping now utilize weather-based irrigation controllers. 
  • Retrofits in academic and student housing buildings have cut water use by about 83 million gallons annually since 2001. More than 95% of the inefficient toilets in these facilities have been retrofitted–over 13,000 retrofits. 
  • All once-through cooling systems in laboratories have been replaced with recirculating systems that reuse the cold water, this has saved more than 0.174 mgd.
  • Installation of 62 water-saving devices on sterilizers reduced water use by about 0.09 mgd.
  • At Stanford dining facilities, replacing standard dishwashers with trough conveyers that constantly recycle water cut water use by about 142 gallons per hour – a 51 percent savings.
  • Since May 2008, Stanford has provided 341 rebates to Faculty/Staff Housing for installing high efficiency toilets or clothes washers and over 100 water wise site inspections. Learn more about resources and rebate programs available for retrofits. 

Learn more about initiatives and accomplishments

We continue to improve water efficiency in existing buildings through maintenance and retrofits, and to educate campus users about the need for water conservation on the personal and community levels. In addition, the university has established guidelines to reduce water use in new buildings by at least 25 percent, compared with similar existing buildings, and new projects to advance water recycling and reuse are under way.