Taking Action Against the Drought

Being located in a semi-arid climate, UC San Diego has long had ambitious water-saving goals. Now, with California facing one of the most severe droughts on record, we are taking even greater action to reduce our water consumption to the greatest extent possible.

Existing Water Action Plan

UC San Diego already saves millions of gallons of water annually through implementation of a comprehensive Water Action Plan (PDF). The plan focuses on a variety of conservation measures and details how we are working towards the University of California goal to reduce campus-wide potable water use by 20 percent from our baseline by 2020. Under the plan, we have:

  • Retrofitted existing irrigation systems with low-flow devices, resulting in an annual savings of 7.2 million gallons in irrigation water used.
  • Included water-saving features in the design of new buildings that will save approximately 1.5 million gallons per year.
  • Installed computer-controlled irrigation systems that have the potential to save more than 100 million gallons of water annually.
  • Utilized fire hydrant testing water at the Central Utilities Plan for the cooling towers, resulting in saving approximately 300,000 gallons per year.
  • Installed laminar water flow devices in nearly 1,000 faucets at the Hillcrest Medical Center, saving approximately 2 million gallons annually.
  • Installed low-flow water fixtures and native or drought tolerant vegetation in all new construction and installed low-flow water fixtures in the majority of existing campus residential facilities. All design guidelines and neighborhood plans specify low water sustainable landscape practices.

Learn more about how the campus conserves water.

Drought Response Measures

Given the severity of the current situation, we continue to make water conservation one of our greatest priorities. Following are some of the measures we are taking:

  • Turning off ornamental fountains. Fountains now run one-hour, three nights a week for maintenance purposes.
  • Installing additional smart water meters enabling real-time data for all of campus.
  • Undertaking additional education and outreach efforts.
  • Summer 2014: When the State of California and City of San Diego mandated several water use restrictions this summer, the campus took immediate action. In full compliance with these restrictions, we committed to:
    • Stopping water leaks upon discovery or within 72 hours of notification
    • Watering before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.
    • Prohibiting excessive irrigation
    • Ensuring all decorative water fountains use recirculating pumps
  • Turf Conversions: We have identified 352,000 square feet of turf to be converted to low/no-water use landscape using drought-tolerant plants and groundcover. We are in the process of converting nearly half of the area specified—128,000 square feet—which will save an estimated 2.7 million gallons annually. Once all areas are converted, the campus will save approximately 9 million gallons per year. Turf conversion signs have been and will continue to be posted at various sites throughout campus.
  • Reducing watering schedules campus-wide
  • Installing more high-efficiency fixtures and low-flow devices
  • Installing artificial turf at Muir Field
  • Using reclaimed water at the East Campus Utilities Plant
  • Converting the Central Utility Plan to a recycled water system, saving the campus an estimated 150 million gallons of water annually, once completed
  • Ensuring that new constructions and renovations meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

These, and other projects already completed or underway, could further reduce potable water consumption by approximately 200 million gallons a year.

What You Can Do

You can take action against the drought. What each of us does individually can add up to make a tremendous difference collectively. If everyone at UC San Diego reduced their water use by a gallon a day, we would save more than 18 million gallons a year.

Following are some tips and tricks to conserve water:

  • Spot a water leak on campus? Report it online at wsc@ucsd.edu or call (858) 534-2930.
  • Turn off the faucet when brushing your teeth, shaving and soaping your hands. Save up to three gallons a day.
  • Wash only full loads of dishes or laundry. Save up to 15-50 gallons per load.
  • Spend five minutes or less in the shower. Save up to 25 gallons per day.
  • Install a high-efficiency toilet. Save up to 19 gallons per person per day.
  • Collect the water you use while rinsing fruits and vegetables. Use it to water house plants.
  • Water your lawn only two days a week instead of five. Save more than 840 gallons a week during the summer.
  • Plant drought-resistant trees and plants. Save 30-60 gallons each time you water 1,000 sq. ft.
  • Water plants in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation. Save up to 25 gallons a day.
  • Install a smart sprinkler controller that’s weather-based. Save up to 40 gallons a day.
  • Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways and sidewalks. Save up to 150 gallons each time.
  • Check your sprinkler for leaks, overspray and broken sprinkler heads. Save up to 500 gallons a month.

Water Conservation Resources


Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the drought and what UC San Diego is doing.

How long will drought restrictions last?
All restrictions are in place until further notice.

How can I report a water leak or water misuse on campus?
Report a water leak online at wsc@ucsd.edu or call Facilities Management at (858) 534-2930.

Why don’t we just stop watering?
While simply turning off our sprinklers may seem like an obvious solution, there are many factors to consider. Our landscaped areas, including turf, are an important part of campus storm water management – landscaping helps capture, cleanse and reduce storm water runoff, thereby helping to keep our oceans clean.

The campus is removing turf and replacing it with drought-tolerant and native species in many areas. But shutting off water, causing landscaped areas to die off before new landscaping can be installed, will increase the potential for soil erosion and pollution.  For this reason, we phase in replacements as rapidly as we can. Keep in mind that even drought-tolerant and low-water-use plantings still require significant watering while they establish root systems.

How can UC San Diego reduce water use if we're building more housing and academic buildings?
New housing installs low-flow water fixtures and water-saving technology such as sensors and timers. Also, have been and continue to change out toilets and urinals that use excessive water. Staff members from departments across the campus, including Planning, Facilities Management, Housing, Dining and Hospitality, and University Center, are collaborating to keep our water use down despite anticipated growth.

Can we replace all fixtures with low-flow versions?
Facilities Management is systematically replacing faucets, toilets, shower heads, and urinals with more efficient models. We have recently applied for grants and stimulus package funds to speed up the process.

Why are people still power washing on-campus?
UC San Diego now only does spot pressure washing, or power washing, as needed rather than scheduled routine washing. Washing of buildings, parking structures and hard surface areas is sometimes necessary as it ensures that rain water does not carry contaminants to the storm drain and exit to our oceans. We use high-pressure washing when dry methods of cleaning will remove hard surface debris such as oil, mold and other pollutants. When high-pressure washing is necessary, we use low-flow high-pressure equipment. Because it is illegal for any of the water to exit down the storm drain, we block all appropriate drains. Water that does not evaporate is captured and either reused or diverted to campus foliage or an appropriate sanitation drain.(Learn more about UCSD Storm Water Management Program and Sewer System Management Plan.)

How Can I Conserve Water at home?
Individual conservation efforts have a tremendous potential to make an impact on water conservation. Please review our section on “What You Can Do” for conservation tips. Also check out our list of Water Conservation Resources” for more information.

Have a suggestion to conserve water? Share your ideas with us at conservewater@ucsd.edu.