Month: October 2012

Sustainability in Italy: Water Conservation

One of the OEP’s senior interns, Manisha Bicchieri, is studying abroad in Italy this semester. She is participating in an Environmental and Agricultural Sustainability program in Florence. As part of this program, Manisha is partaking in a variety of field excursions including two farm stays. This is the first post of her blog series, Sustainability in Italy.

source:bistroatlantis.comThe Environmental and Agricultural Sustainability program is a close collaboration between the International Studies Institute (ISI) and the University of Connecticut. Thus UConn professors often come to teach at ISI. For the past three weeks, Professor Gary Robbins taught a condensed course on water resources. As part of the course, we visited a water bottling plant, AcquaPanna, and Florence’s public water facility, Publiacqua.


AcquaPanna is water-bottling company located in Tuscany, though its distribution is worldwide. Our visit took us from the source of the water to the bottle.  AcquaPanna bottles natural mineral water that flows underground from the Apennines Mountains. The minerals are absorbed naturally as water flows through the geological formations to its source. Because the water flows underground, it is protected from surface pollution. Thus the water is naturally purified and bottled at the source without any additional treatment.  AcquaPanna produces over 300 million liters of water each year, 30% of which is exported abroad. The water is bottled in either glass or PET.


Publiacqua is responsible for the collection, treatment, transport, and distribution of drinking water for four Italian provinces, including Florence. Within the 49 municipalities it serves dwells one-third of the regional population, or about 1,277,000 inhabitants.


Bottled Water vs. Tap Water

Like Americans, many Italians regularly drink bottled water, despite free water being available in many public places. In fact, Italians are the top consumers of bottled water in Europe, and third in the world. There are four key reasons to choose tap water: convenience, savings, quality and safety, and the environment.

Convenience – Want water? Turn on the tap.

Savings – In Italy, the average price for a pack of 6-1.5 liter bottles, is € 2.40 (just over $3 US). Supposing you purchase two packs per week, you spend € 250 for 936 liters per year.  In comparison, tap water costs approximately € 2 per cubic meter, or 1000 liters. Thus, bottled water is nearly 500 times more expensive than tap water.

Quality and Safety – Tap water is closely monitored for both quality and safety.

Environment – Using tap water helps the environment by reducing the production of plastic, transportation emissions, and waste. Each pound of PET (Polyethylene terephthalate, plastics coded “1”) – enough to make 12 bottles – requires two pounds of oil and an additional six bottles of water to complete the chemical reaction. Additionally, the entire process emits two pounds of carbon dioxide. Unlike tap water, bottle water is transported, increasing carbon emissions, especially when transported abroad.

The consumption of bottled water is a major environmental problem throughout the developed world. Just turn on the tap!

Meet our Newest Intern: Alexander Samalot

Hi everyone, my name is Alex Samalot, the newest Intern at the Office of Environmental Policy. I am a Junior Undergraduate Environmental Engineering Student. I first heard about the Internship through a friend in the office, Eric Grulke. After a series of jobs unrelated to my studies, ranging from farm work to landscaping and even making burritos, I decided that as an upperclassman it was time to seek out real applied experience in the environmental field.

My major and academic work is focused on how things move through each other. This could be anything from how pollution moves through air, water and soil, to how money flows through lenders, investors and customers. In the classroom I am working or completed physics, chemistry and calculus, and outside of class I have been fortunate enough to begin to work on controlling theses flows and seeing them in large scale.

I recently finished a tour of three New York City buildings. Two were passive house certified apartment complexes which used the newest insulation techniques and building methods to create very energy efficient buildings. The third was a house renovated using recycled building materials as well as the control the storm water, an ongoing problem in NYC. By enhancing natural processes that filter move and store water, the engineers allowed the owner to successfully disconnect his water flow from the storm water collection grid. All three were impressive feats of air and water control and it was inspiring to see in person.

So far, at the OEP I have recently finished a tour of the newly retro commissioned Agriculture Biosciences Building and sat in on the meeting describing the changes they are doing to the buildings on campus. I look forward to working on the Green Parking initiative as well as the Climate Action Plan and composting initiative.

I look forward to meeting you all and working in the Office of Environmental Policy. The experience I gain here will be very helpful for my goal of becoming an Environmental Engineer. I am also excited to work on the UConn Campus learning how to make my current surroundings have less of an impact on the environment.


Blog Action Day 2012: The Power of We

…when people get together to make the world a better place.

The Power of We – Conserving Water Resources at the University of Connecticut

Public awareness of the increasing scarcity of water on a global scale has been growing over the last few decades. The main concerns are water quantity and quality; millions of people around the world have infrequent or no access to a source of clean water. This problem is exacerbated by a growing population with ever increasing demands for natural resources. In contrast, here in the USA it is hard to imagine anything but a tap flowing with cool, crisp, potable water. Too often we take water for granted. Through technological advances in the drinking water industry we are seemingly able to meet the majority of demand for water in our own country. At least, we don’t often hear about when our water infrastructure fails.

                Connecticut is generally considered a water-rich state; we have adequate supplies of groundwater and high quality surface water reservoirs. However, despite this perceived abundance of water resources certain sites have been known to overstress their water sources. At the University of Connecticut there is an undergraduate population of around 17 thousand alone. If faculty, staff, and graduate students are factored in there is a daily demand for water to support in excess of 25 thousand people. It should be noted that not all of these will have needs for UConn water during peak demand hours; many live at home and will cook and bathe using separate water sources. Even so, UConn has experienced its share of water supply issues.

UConn receives high quality groundwater from two well fields adjacent to the Fenton and Willimantic rivers. The University must remain vigilant in monitoring the withdrawal rate and water levels of these rivers through its department of Facilities Operations and a partnership with the US Geological Survey. In 2005, a stretch of the Fenton River ran dry due to low precipitation and water pumping from UConn’s Fenton well field. This was a significant ecological hardship for the area and resulted in a redoubling of UConn’s water monitoring and conservation efforts.

UConn’s water supply issues did not stop there; in the spring and summer of 2012 low snow melt and precipitation associated with a nationwide drought stressed its groundwater sources yet again. The university issued a water advisory, mandating conservation efforts, including a limit on lawn watering, car washing, and ornamental fountains. Voluntary measures were suggested in conjunction.

In September, with the return of the student body, water conservation took on new urgency. The mandatory conservation measures had been lifted; however the water advisory remained in effect. Inconsistent precipitation and increased water demand led to an uncertain forecast for our water supply. Upon arrival back to school, one of my first tasks as a student intern in UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy was to implement a water conservation outreach campaign that would target the student population.

I, along with a fellow intern, outlined a schedule of steps that could be taken to promote the importance of saving water to students. Our efforts focused on advertising the facts and importance surrounding saving water and how water supply may affect life at UConn and the surrounding ecological and human communities. Through September and October we created materials to achieve this goal; the message was advertised in the student theater, student union, recreational facility, laundry rooms, and via social media.

Our message focused on what students could do to reduce their water usage. We were able to couple our program with existing programs like the OEP’s “Stop the Drop” campaign, which focuses on promoting students’ role in reporting wasteful infrastructure damages for repair. Our new materials detailed some of the wasteful habits many college students fall into, for instance in dormitory laundry rooms we advised students to restrict usage of washing machines to full loads of clothes. By combining a recognizable slogan and symbol into our work while adding new elements to the theme we hoped to maximize the effectiveness of our message.

Our efforts were rewarded when water usage for September showed that UConn used 7% less water than a year earlier. One of the greatest successes and largest contributors to these results was progress in a continued leak detection and repair program focused on UConn’s water distribution system. Retro-commissioning projects have resulted in improved system efficiencies and controls, and the combination of outreach on the parts of our office, Facilities Operations, and a variety of campus and university stakeholders managed to reduce the water demand beyond our expectations.

With infrastructure improvements underway, the outreach component of this issue must persist. In fact, the water conservation program should ideally be perpetual. With growing populations this conservation mindset must continue to spread and flourish if we are to maintain our quality of life and preserve our natural environment. Hopefully, through continued efforts we can help change our culture into one that puts a high value on our natural resources. We have a semester-long plan to continue our water conservation program and have begun to work with student organizations, like EcoHusky, to address this issue from multiple sides.

The events at the University of Connecticut over the last few years have demonstrated how a community can change its practices in order to responsibility utilize its available water supply. Throughout this process UConn has looked to other institution for guidance in its water supply plan and we hope that other groups will be able to learn from our experiences. Although UConn is a small speck on the global water budget, it may prove that a widespread change in practice and thought process on this micro-scale may prove to be effective in conserving the Earth’s precious water supply.

Meet Our New OEP Intern Meredith!

Hi! My name is Meredith Hillmon and I am the newest Office of Environmental Policy Intern. I am an undergraduate student, working towards a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science. I was first notified about the OEP internship position opening through my professor for the Physical Geography course I am currently enrolled in, Jeanne Thibeault. She posted a notice on the course HuskyCT page and encouraged any student with a major or an interest in environmental science to try for the position. I saw the opportunity as one I had to seize, and I knew that I had nothing to lose by simply trying. I also knew that being able to work for the OEP would be an amazing, enlightening experience that I would definitely never regret pursuing. I can say now that I am thrilled to see that my determination was rewarded.

My interest in environmental science first emerged during high school, namely my freshman year. I was already a member of my school’s student council, as well as one or two volunteering and community service clubs, a tutoring club, and even the yoga club. But, even still, I wanted to be a part of something different. While I loved being a part of community service groups, I was starting to wish to become a part of a different kind of community service, and my sights turned to my high school’s environmental club.  I discovered a new-found love for helping the community as well as the environment, and the idea of being proactive towards the challenge of climate change.

My love for the environment and for environmental science has only escalated since then. The courses I am enrolled in further my interest, and I am completely confident that my new internship will provide the same. I am truly looking forward to the time I will be spending with the OEP and as a new member of EcoHusky. The experience and knowledge I will gain from this position is bound to be incredible.


Editor’s Note: Much of Meredith’s work will be focused on the technical side of our sustainability initiatives, including EcoMadness data management and our annual greenhouse gas inventory. We’re excited to have her on board – welcome to OEP, Meredith!