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September 21, 2016

Cornell Research Labs Cut Water Usage, Responding to Drought

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As Ithaca continues to grapple with the consequences of a second-stage drought, Cornell research labs have undertaken widespread efforts to reduce water usage, after prompting from the administration and the City of Ithaca.

Facilities directors and administrators have “encouraged students and staff to conserve as much water as possible,” according to Todd Pfeiffer, facilities director for Weill Hall, Clark Hall and the Physical Sciences Building.

For example, Pfeiffer said labs have attempted to reduce usage of “autoclaves and sterilizers” — devices that sterilize lab equipment with heat and high pressure — which he said “can use several hundred gallons of water every day to sanitize glassware.”

In Weill Hall alone, there are 18 autoclaves and nine glassware washers, and lab directors have instructed staff to “turn off equipment when not in use and to only run full loads,” according to Pfeiffer.

“When washing glassware in the sink, we are asking everyone to check that the faucet is outfitted with an aerator and [to] only use high purity water when absolutely necessary,” he said. “All of these lab conservation steps can make a big difference in saving water overall.”

The genomics facility in Cornell’s Institute of Biotechnology has also taken steps to minimize water loss by repairing leaking faucets in research labs.

Since July 28 — when faculty, students and staff were first instructed to conserve water — research facilities and labs have helped the University reduced water usage by 20 percent as compared to last year, said University Water and Wastewater Manager Chris Bordlemay.

Pfeiffer said most efforts to reduce water have been directed toward “areas that don’t impact critical research or negatively affect experiment results,” with feedback from faculty and students reporting that “small but important conservation recommendations have been easy to adopt.”

He added that researchers and facilities teams are playing “active roles” in the campus response to extreme drought conditions, and facilities managers across campus are working with Cornell’s Drought Emergency Planning Team to take suggestions from students.

“Nearly all of the gains in our water conservation effort require small steps by many players. While it is difficult to reduce water in active research experiments without affecting the results, we can reduce water in other ways,” Pfeiffer said. “There is a lot more we can do in labs to save water and we will continue to post water conservation signage around our buildings.”

Both Pfeiffer and Bordlemay said they are “grateful” for the campus community’s active response in conserving water.

“We continue to remind everyone to be vigilant and search for ways to conserve water and we will adjust as needed,” Pfeiffer said.