February 23, 2011

Salmon-safe: UW recognized for protecting water quality, salmon habitat

The University is also concerned about managing storm water. You can read about those efforts and see a slide show.

The UWs Seattle campus has just become the largest institution in the state to be certified as salmon-safe.

The certification, which was created by the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability (NBIS), recognizes the UWs efforts to protect water quality and salmon habitat. In addition, the UW had to agree to further reduce its environmental impact over the coming five years.

The campus standard network controller is above, with a color coded irrigation zone map. The controller uses Ethernet to connect to the irrigation office for remote monitoring and programming. The color coded map shows various zones comprised of dedicated sprinklers or drip irrigation to serve unique plant water requirements and microclimate variables. See below for more photos. | Photo by Mary Levin

The campus standard network controller is above, with a color coded irrigation zone map. The controller uses Ethernet to connect to the irrigation office for remote monitoring and programming. The color coded map shows various zones comprised of dedicated sprinklers or drip irrigation to serve unique plant water requirements and microclimate variables. See below for more photos. | Photo by Mary Levin

“This is a wonderful accomplishment,” says Anne Eskridge, assistant director for materials management in Facilities Services and the project manager for the salmon-safe process. “This is more like an accreditation process than simply an award. The review by NBIS was extensive, including site visits.”

The process began when Charles Kennedy, assistant vice president of Facilities Services, received an invitation to apply for certification back in 2007. “NBIS felt that we would be the benchmark for other large institutions,” he said, “but before I agreed to go through the process I wanted to see how feasible it was.”

Certification was attractive for a number of reasons. For one, it aligns the UW to be a leader in support of the governors Puget Sound Partnership initiative, a comprehensive action plan to restore the health of the Sound by 2020.

The good news was that previous wise decisions had put the UW in a favorable position to achieve certification.  Ultimately, separate decisions made about irrigation, storm water runoff, design criteria for landscaping and integrated pest management all come together if the University wants to make sure that it has only positive effects on the environment for salmon.

“Over two decades or more, many people had worked hard to do the right thing. So this certification process turned out to be affirming and rewarding,” says Jan Arntz-Richards, environmental planner in the Capital Projects Office.  “As a compliance person, I often encounter people who regard the regulatory process as negative. But this process was very positive and validated the work of many people over the years. There is so much that is good taking place here, from an environmental perspective. This is one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, and I think our entire staff tries to be conscious of this in their work and in the policies that we adopt.”

The details of the certification process are available to read. Certification allowed the UW to pull together people from all over campus and to document the steps that the University has taken to make the surrounding environment safe for Washingtons iconic fish. Unsurprisingly, just about everything comes down to water.

The UW has between six and seven miles of drip irrigation systems alone, says Brian Davis, irrigation lead.  The UW uses a “smart” irrigation, which involves employing technology to help decide how much and when to water, but Davis is adamant that the ultimate expertise for maintaining a beautiful landscape, and not causing excessive runoff – which, he points out, inevitably ends up in Lake Washington – depends on individuals. While about 60 to 70 percent of the UW irrigation system is networked with remote monitoring and programming capabilities, the human touch with devices such as soil moisture probes is required for fine-tuning the system.

“We know if we water too much, we may be harming some plants,” he says. “Also, that excess runoff water drains into the bays with suspended particulate, reducing water quality which is harmful to salmon.” Other key issues with over-irrigating include the cost associated with waste and that it is detrimental to balancing summer watershed reserves with respect to optimal conditions for salmon.”

Although irrigation systems are expected to have a 30-year lifespan, the entire system goes through an annual commissioning process to test for leaks, sticky valves and dirty water filters.

The team that maintains campus grounds also helps decide what gets planted, either in areas that it maintains or in wholly new projects that are being managed during the development phase by private entities. The latter undergo a design review that examines these issues in detail – not only so that the plants will survive but also so that the plantings occur in a way that minimizes maintenance.

Davis points out that “native and natural” may sound good, but it does not provide a complete solution for the campus. “Our campus is a living laboratory, supporting the Universitys academic mission,” he says, “so we need to have a balanced landscape.” In addition, not all plants native to the Northwest will thrive on campus, because of variations in soil, shade and microclimate, among other factors.

Green roofs, which have captured much public attention, create their own challenges. The newer roofs, Davis says, such as PACCAR Hall and the Molecular Engineering Building now under construction, have shallow soil profiles known as “extensive” green roofs which reduce structural requirements. The oldest green roof on campus is actually Red Square, although it was not designed with many environmental issues uppermost in peoples minds. And every green roof introduces its own maintenance challenges.

The University receives a credit on its utility bill for water that is used for irrigation – because the water is not going into the citys sanitary sewer system. These savings can be substantial, amounting to several hundred thousand dollars a year or more.

Intercollegiate Athletics is responsible for managing large areas of campus that abut directly on the lake, and they have been full partners in the salmon-safe certification process. “Were pleased the University has achieved this distinction,” says Chip Lydum, associate athletic director for facilities and events. “Weve been pleased to adopt all the appropriate measures involving pesticide use and good environmental management practices for operating the grounds around the lake. Its been great to work with Howard Nakases team who have been assisting us in developing policies and practices that preserve our beautiful environment.”

Lydum points out that the remodel of Husky Stadium, which will begin this fall, will have significant positive impacts, including the removal of old, lead-based paint and improved ways of handling runoff. The systems now in place were de
veloped at least 50 years ago.

Athletics also has developed an aggressive program of diverting waste from landfills and into compost. The diversion rate has risen from about 27 percent in 2006 to about 51 percent this year.

The UW is one of four entities to be certified this year as salmon-safe. The others are: REI, PCC Natural Markets and Olympic Sculpture Park. Turner Construction also received construction management accreditation (Turner is the main contractor for the renovation of Husky Stadium). You can read more about salmon-safe certification.