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Water Conservation at the NIEHS

The 2007-2008 drought in central North Carolina has led to critically low levels in many area water supply reservoirs. As a result many municipalities, including the City of Durham, established water use restrictions for residential, commercial and industrial customers. Please visit the North Carolina drought information website (> or the National drought education website (> for additional information.

The NIEHS receives water from the City of Durham for laboratory, utility and domestic purposes. Most of the water supplied by the City of Durham comes from Lake Michie and the Little River Reservoir. The city maintains a water management web site ( that provides information about the water supply status and current water conservation requirements. Please visit this web site to obtain more knowledge about current drought conditions and the Durham water supply.

The NIEHS has been very active in helping to conserve water during this critical time. Several changes to our utility and service support operations have provided immediate water use reductions. The additional conservation efforts that have been initiated to further reduce our future water usage are listed below. We have also established the NIEHS Environmental Management Programs & Initiatives (EMS) ( that documents specific efforts to conserve water. Please visit other EMS web links for more information.

Completed Water Conservation Efforts

  • The chilled water systems are being optimized. This is significant since the cooling tower portion of the chilled water system is the single largest source of water use on the NIEHS/EPA campus and can represent up to 50% of the site water usage, especially during the hot summer months.
  • Campus utility systems' leaks have been identified and repaired.
  • Outdoor watering has been eliminated with all irrigation systems being shutdown months ago. In some cases, water has been taken from the lake for spot watering from a tank on a limited basis.
  • Cafeteria dishwashing and rinsing procedures have been modified to increase water efficiency. Now, only full loads are washed, and disposable trays and pans are used while the water crisis is in effect.
  • Changes in the washing procedures for the laboratory support equipment have been made. Only full loads are processed through the washers, the frequency of washing has been reduced, several cycles have been shortened or eliminated and the recycling of wash water is being optimized.
  • Changes have been made to decrease water used to wash histology slides.
  • Waterless urinal units have been installed in the NIEHS facilities. As we evaluate their installation, we'll be ordering more units to replace the water-using urinals.
  • Water reducing faucet aerators are being installed on restroom sinks.
  • Elimination of GSA vehicle washing.
  • Installation of water conserving shower heads.
  • Replacement of water-consuming air compressors with water-free compressors.
  • Modifications to auto-flushing toilets to reduce water use.
  • Central plant chiller changes have saved significant water and energy.

Ongoing Water Conservation Efforts

  • Reduced flow aerators have been purchased for lab sink faucets and will be installed where appropriate.
  • Installation of "waterless" hand sanitizer dispensers has already occurred in our leased facilities and is now being initiated in our on-campus facilities.
  • Modifications to autoclaves to reduce water use.
  • Educational water conservation information provided through the Grapevine and all-hands e-mails.
  • Measures to save water used by vacuum pumps and circulation pumps.
  • Reductions in window washing, and mopping as appropriate.
  • Delayed maintenance of building systems to avoid draining water lines.
  • Delay of any optional fire pump and hydrant testing as permitted.

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Last Reviewed: March 03, 2008