By Karina Mazhukhina | Jun 1, 2016
Members of the water irrigation team posed in front of a map of campus.

The UW relies primarily on freshwater purchased from Seattle Public Utilities to water landscaped areas on campus. A group on campus wants that to change.

A team of students, faculty and staff are proposing to alter the existing irrigation system to distribute rainwater as opposed to fresh drinking water, and they received a Green Seed Fund grant to help make it happen.

"It seems out of order to me that we don't collect rainfall and use it to irrigate the campus," said Leigh Allison, UW graduate student involved in the project. "We're going to figure out how to use rainwater for existing irrigation systems on the Seattle Campus."

Currently, UW has some areas on campus that rely on rainwater. The laundry at Mercer Court, and a garden at Merrill Hall are examples of UW reducing its water demands with rainwater. But that's not enough. This team is looking at the larger irrigation water demand, and the project will provide invaluable insight into the design, operation, and maintenance of these rainwater irrigation systems.

First, they will be asking other campuses that have similar irrigation systems in place what sort of challenges they encountered and advantages they observed. The team will incorporate this information into their irrigation recommendations and project. They want this project to kick-start a multifaceted, longer duration project that requires more research into site selection, design work, planning, peer/stakeholder review, and piloting prior to full-scale implementation.

UW Grounds management has created an interactive map to showing irrigation methods across campus. This is the starting point for site selection. The University of Washington is rapidly growing and expanding; it is important to look for locations that keep the cisterns out of the way of other projects. The idea is to collect rainwater from roofs around campus, filter the water through a series of cisterns, and then take that water and pump it through the existing irrigation system. Finally, this system will be designed with a lifecycle maintenance plan in order to ensure that system operates to its full potential.

Leigh Allison, an graduate student, Brian Davis, the UW Facilities Grounds Project Coordinator, and Jessica Kaminsky, an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department are currently working on the survey which will collect information about existing systems.

"By learning about existing systems, we hope to design a system which builds on their lessons learned," said Allison.

The team will use the grant to research, design, and hopefully, install a small rainwater irrigation system that will collect data on the water collected and irrigated soils. The team aims to have the design approved by Spring of 2017.