Universities Testing Ways to Recycle More Water

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Zafrir Rinat

The issue of water conservation is back in the headlines again and has reached academic institutions. Some have begun dealing with waste water, including the water from air conditioners. At Tel Aviv University and the Technion, condensation from air conditioners is being collected into small reservoirs and then used for irrigating the gardens.

According to Amnon Gilan, deputy director general for engineering at TAU, the university will also be using treated recycled sewage water for gardening. "And we may put up a facility at the university to treat the university sewage, which would enable us to use that water for irrigation."

At the Technion, says Dr. Ofira Ayalon, they're planting native flora that uses much less water than European and North American plants, and only needs irrigation in the first stages of growth. And in the effort to turn the Technion into a "green campus," they are already using irrigation water recycled from two air conditioners to water the main lawn in the heart of the campus.

In the early 1990s, when Rafael Eitan was agriculture minister, he put a lot of effort into water conservation, even suggesting at one point that couples shower together to save water. While that proposal was scoffed at, his efforts in other areas paid off. During his term in office there was a 10 percent conservancy rate in water consumption. But ever since, saving water has lost its appeal as the proper Israeli thing to do.

Now the green organizations want to bring it back. Life and Environment, the umbrella organization for all the green groups, held a conference last week on saving water. From a valve that can reduce the average 17 liters of water used in a shower, to 10, to a city planner's guide to water conservation, the conference heard about ways to both conserve water and to collect more of it from rain.

Prof. Naomi Carmon presented a paper explaining that the massive use of concrete in the cities results in a lot of rainwater never making it to the ground. She called for the "asphalt jungle" to include channels that lead to the ground and the aquifer beneath the city. Gutters on buildings, she suggested, should lead to the gardens.

The Technion meanwhile has an annual competition for the best environment technology proposed by its students. The most recent winners were Nati Pasternak and Guy Ramon, who proposed a device that recycles and treats "gray water," meaning soapy water from dishwashers, kitchen and bathroom sink drains. According to the two student's study, some 55 percent of household water is turned into "gray water" and meanwhile, that's going straight to the sewage system when it could be used. Indeed, the Technion plans to use their device for the university swimming pool.