Undergraduate Research Spurs Grant for Water Recycling Study

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Undergraduate research done at Harvey Mudd College has helped The Claremont Colleges secure $250,000 to study the feasibility of building a micro-water-recycling facility.

The money will fund an engineering study and a one-year business case to assess the construction and operating costs of a micro-water-treatment plant that would allow the colleges to capture, store and re-use wastewater for landscaping needs.

The California Water Foundation awarded half of the funds and the Claremont University Consortium will provide the remainder.

Funding and approval for the study was based upon recommendations from the research project, “Irrigating The Claremont Colleges with Reclaimed Water,” performed by Dustin Zubke ’13.

“Funding was a big hurdle for the engineering study. Even though the water reclamation system seemed very appealing, commissioning the study was still expensive,” Zubke said. “Receiving the grant from the California Water Foundation boosted the engineering study from a good idea to a no-brainer.”

Zubke worked with physics Professor Richard Haskell, director of HMC’s Center for Environmental Studies, and did the bulk of his research in the summer of 2011. Supported by a research award from the center, he did a cost-benefit analysis for a proposed water reclamation system that would reclaim the 5-C’s wastewater. His analysis showed that if a reclamation plant captured and treated the 310,000 gallons of wastewater the colleges generate daily, it could supply 72 percent of the campuses’ landscape water needs. When combined with the appropriate landscaping, it could meet 100 percent of the need.

Zubke’s project was the latest in a series of studies by students, faculty and facilities staff dating back to 2007. In 2009, Sustainable Claremont, a local nonprofit, extended the study to the Claremont community and drew input from area water and sanitation representatives. Among them was Richard Atwater, executive director of the Southern California Water Committee.

“When the California Water Foundation was established, Rich [Atwater] was asked to head the grants program for water reclamation,” said Haskell. “He immediately thought of our proposed water reclamation project at the colleges, and we were delighted to express interest in the CWF grant program.”

Haskell, Zubke and Tim Morrison, CUC vice-president of Facilities Management and Planning, drafted and submitted a grant proposal requesting funding for the feasibility study.

According to Zubke’s findings, the facility could pay for itself within 12 years and, depending on future water rate increases, save the colleges up to $28 million over 20 years.