Emory Report

July 10, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 37

Facilities Management

Drought hits Emory landscape

By Michael Terrazas

Though the University's automated irrigation system makes things a bit easier, Emory has had to abide by watering restrictions just like any other Atlanta resident during this summer's drought.

Under the DeKalb County restrictions, Emory is allowed to water its grounds between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. on even-numbered days; the University contacted the director of the county's water works and arranged to have the entire campus considered an even-numbered address. Because Facilities Management (FM) can program the irrigation system to activate whenever it chooses, the time restrictions have not been a problem, but Jimmy Powell, superintendent of roads and grounds, said that doesn't mean the summer is going swimmingly.

"Each winter we try to plant a lot of trees on campus that aren't necessarily in an irrigated area, and we're having to spend a lot of labor to try and keep those trees watered and stay within the guidelines," Powell said. "We're struggling to keep those trees alive."

And these are not saplings, either. Powell said a number of larger trees have been transplanted in the last few years from sites that later broke ground on new buildings. For example, several trees now located next to the business and dental school buildings formerly stood where the Whitehead Memorial Research Building is being built.

Further complicating matters is the landscaping for the new buildings. Private landscapers are exempt from watering restrictions-but only on the day they install new material. After that, they have to abide by the restrictions just like everybody else.

So while the new trees and sod at the Miller-Ward Alumni House, for example, may look great when they are first planted, what they look like in September may be another story.

"Watering needs [for newly planted landscapes] are much higher," Powell said. "We will take over the Alumni House by mid-July, and when we do, we'll be expected to water it according to the restrictions. That will be a challenge."

While walking around campus, people may have noticed some trees fitted with green bags around their trunks. Known as "Gator Bags," these devices ensure that the maximum amount of water from the 20-to-30 gallons they hold goes straight to the trees.

But FM also is taking steps to ease the burden in future summers. A number of new buildings like Whitehead and Science 2000 Phase II will have "drip-irrigation" systems, Powell said. Developed out of necessity in desert climates like Israel, these systems use spaghetti tubing and controlled water emission directly at plants' root systems to minimize evaporation.

Whitehead also will be host to an underground stormwater detention well that will further conserve water. The subterranean reservoir will not only retain rain water but also condensation from the building's air conditioning system. Powell said the well will hold 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of water-water that not only will feed Emory's plants and trees but also water DeKalb County can direct elsewhere.

Therein lies the problem. At least at this point in time, the rain shortage does not actually mean a shortage of water, Powell said; what it does mean is an increase in demand. With no rainfall to water their lawns, people use their sprinklers and add to demand which water treatment plants are not able to meet. Hence the watering restrictions, which direct this extra demand to early-morning hours when normal water usage is down.

But with drier summers and more taps every day around the city, that could change. "There needs to be a general awareness that Atlanta's water supply is finite," Powell said. "Although it's not that great a problem now and only comes to light when there's a drought, 10 or 15 years from now water supply will definitely be a limiting factor for growth in Atlanta."

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