Science 430 Students Present Research About Water Use on Campus

The average student uses 233 liters of water every day. Phillips Academy uses 5,577,304,871 gallons of water per year in energy production alone. Every hamburger that is served in Commons represents 2,400 liters of water used to raise, fatten and transport the meat.

These statistics were among a few presented by groups of students in Science 430, an environmental studies class that focuses on water resources, to the Phillips Academy community on November 30.

The first “Water Expo” event included presentations on global and local water issues, ranging from the concept of “virtual water” to bottled water expenses on campus.

Anna Milkowski, Instructor in Biology and Instructor of Science 430, said, “We didn’t have a water expo last year…The students decided they wanted to do this.”

“We had planned to write term papers at the end of the class and a group of students said, ‘I think the whole campus needs to know more about these subjects, and how about we have a water day or just raise the conversation and have people talking about water use on campus.’ So this whole project came from them deciding that they wanted to do this.”

Collin Benedict ’12, Lorenzo Conte ’12 and Hannah de Groot ’12 researched the idea of virtual water. Virtual water is the amount of water used throughout a product’s life span.

“[Virtual water includes water used] from harvest to production to consumption. Like a pair of jeans, it’s the water that goes into the cotton, that goes into owning the product and the upkeep. We tried to understand what virtual water is and how we can look at it at Andover, locally,” said Conte.

Using sources from UNESCO and the Water Footprint Organization, Benedict, Conte and de Groot categorized water used in production into three categories: “green” water, “blue” water and “gray” water.

“Green” water is liquid that returns to the environment immediately after use without causing damage or pollution. “Blue” water returns to its original state after an extended period of time. “Gray” water is contaminated water that is toxic or detrimental to the environment.

The group also used data from Paresky Commons to calculate the amount of virtual water used in the production of Green Mountain Coffee, the coffee supplied in Paresky Commons. Green Mountain Coffee is made of 99% Arabica beans, which require relatively little water to irrigate. In a single year, Phillips Academy consumes approximately 49,000 cups of coffee. This represents 6,860,000 liters of water used in production alone.

Nicholas Tonckens ’12, Ryan Ramos ’12 and Jun Oh ’12 researched direct water use on campus. They conducted water audits of appliances in dorms which use the most water across campus, to calculate the water expenditure of showers, sinks, toilets and washing machines.

The group also surveyed the PAnet community, receiving over 140 responses. They concluded that Phillips Academy students use the most water while showering, spending an average of 11 minutes in the shower.

Maggie Shoemaker ’12 and Kate Chaviano ’12 presented their findings on the use of bottled water. The quality of bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has looser standards than those to which what some water companies claim to adhere. However, tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has much stricter requirements regarding filtration and safety.

As a result, bottled water is often nothing more than simple filtered tap water. Shoemaker and Chaviano said that drinking bottled water is not only a waste of existing infrastructure but also environmentally harmful as the production of water bottles require three times the amount of water they contain.

Shoemaker and Chaviano also presented alternatives to drinking bottled water, citing the efforts of Deerfield Academy’s “Green Movement.” Deerfield currently does not sell bottled water on campus, instead using water filling stations in dorms and around campus to encourage the use of reusable containers.

“I thought that was really interesting to see another boarding school do that. We could do that at some point. I definitely don’t think it’s the money… it’s just the fact that people don’t want to [install the fillers] because they’re too accustomed to bottled water,” said Shoemaker.

Felipe Storch ’12, Peter Nowak ’12 and Hannah Beinecke ’12 examined the use of water in the energy production process, specifically in nuclear, wind, solar, biomass and hydro energy, coal, oil and natural gas.

Using estimates of a study at Virginia Tech and Andover’s energy expenditure reports, the group calculated the amount of water used for energy production. Phillips Academy relies primarily on coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear energy, which requires the greatest amount of water. Storch, Nowak and Beinecke discovered that the Academy uses 5,577,304,871 gallons of water each year for energy production.

The Expo was largely student motivated because the class felt strongly about sharing their studies with the community.

“I was very pleased that they took global issues and brought them to a focus on the campus to make it solvable. If on a local level, in a home, in one life, in a school, in a town, if everybody starts approaching both virtual water and real water and the assumption at that level, that adds up across connected communities,” said Trish Russell, Sustainability Coordinator.

“They did a really good job in not just talking about a giant program across the world but how can we approach it by studying it quantitatively and scientifically in our own campus neighborhood.”

Raj Mundra, Instructor in Biology, said, “The numbers are compelling and make it real. I didn’t know that we were able to monitor water use to that level. The idea of virtual water is really interesting also, I thought they did a great job taking a product they use on campus and looking at sources.”