Regulations and red tape were holding up a groundbreaking environmental project at the University of Maryland, College Park, until two students contacted local politicians and pushed for county-level code changes.
The groundwater reclaimation project at UMD’s new Physical Science Complex is projected to save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each year by recycling water from underground springs, and is the first of its kind in Prince George’s County, said Lauren Kinard, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Resources.
Mark Stewart, of the UMD office of sustainability, said construction crews struck water several years ago while digging the science building’s foundation, and that the university considered using the water for toilets and mechanical cooling within the building instead of paying for treated water from WSSC.
If the groundwater was not reused, it would still need to be contained and pumped away from the building’s foundation, he said.
In 2012, James Jalandoni, 23, and Matthew Popkin, 23, learned that the groundwater re-use system was stalled because the county lacked official regulations on how to proceed, so the pair petitioned local politicians and helped draft a proposal for regulations that are now waiting on final approval from the county health department.
“There were no existing regulations that said they could create this pipe system, so our students go involved,” Stewart said. “What came out of this is that [the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission] issued regulations for water reuse systems that give us and every other construction firm in the WSSC area regulations to work toward water re-use systems.”
Stewart said the campus uses approximately half a billion gallons of water each year, which it pays to have treated and piped in by WSSC at a cost of around $7.2 million, according to a report provided by the UMD Office of Sustainability.
The county departments of health and environmental resources are currently reviewing the university’s proposal and are planning to promote the groundwater reclaimation system as a pilot project for other systems throughout the county, Kinard said.
Jalandoni and Popkin, who were both undergraduate students and members of the UMD Student Government Association at the time, said they were disappointed to learn that procedural issues were holding up such an important project.
“There are a lot of sustainable practices the university is being really innovative in implementing, and we should not let regulations stifle that innovation when there are so many ways we can be preserving our environment,” Jalandoni said. “As long as students and the general population are aware of these issues, things can change really quickly.”
Jalandoni and Popkin said they hope the UMD project will raise awareness about water conservation and prompt other organizations in the area to take advantage of the newly-created regulations for groundwater reclaimation.
“This has broader implications than one university building,” Popkin said.
“Hopefully, this will start a practice that will be more widely used,” Jalandoni said.
“It’s a shame that things that could be saving so much water and be such a sustainable practice are being completely ignored because there’s just not enough awareness.”