An Assessment of Sustainable Water Management at University Campuses


Richardson, Curtis J

McHugh, Amani N.







Sustainable water management is needed to ensure quality supplies of our vital water resources in the face of growing human demand for water, high levels of pollution, and increasing spatial and temporal variability associated with climate change. An integrated approach to water management is recommended to address current water challenges, which are often interrelated with other environmental, economic and social issues. Universities and colleges have missions, resources, and contexts that could enable them to lead the process of developing and applying sustainable and integrated water resource management (IWRM). The opportunity to exemplify integrated water management has grown as institutions of higher education have made progress towards incorporating environmental sustainability into teaching, research, and campus operations. This dissertation examines the issue of campus water management at institutions of higher education through a review of campus sustainability literature, a survey of sustainability and facilities managers, and case studies of three campus water-related projects.

Findings from the review of campus sustainability literature and websites suggests water is less of a campus management priority than issues such as energy and climate change; furthermore, where water is addressed, the focus is on water conservation, while water quality management is overlooked. IWRM is not explicitly discussed in the campus sustainability literature reviewed, though principles relevant to IWRM are included in some campus sustainability declarations and programs. Results from the survey substantiate the findings from literature review that water management is less of an institutional priority than energy management and water quality management is often underemphasized in campus management. According to the survey respondents, campus water management at the institutions represented was on average just adequately managed and institutions were minimally prepared to deal with several types of future water problems. Facilities managers tended to rate their institution's water management as slightly more effective compared to sustainability coordinators. Many campuses relied on top-down, engineering based water management approaches, rather than integrated and interdisciplinary water management. Individual initiatives, municipal codes and policies, campus community sustainability awareness, and campus environmental projects served as drivers for more sustainable water management, while budget constrains were a common barrier. Logistic regression analysis of the survey data revealed that institutions featuring stream and wetland restoration projects had greater odds of being described as having a developed watershed plan and taking into consideration multidisciplinary approaches to water management.

Case studies showed that wetland creation and restoration projects can serve as effective teaching and research laboratories for institutions of higher education, but that none of the studied cases fully exemplified IWRM in their operation. Of the three cases studied, the Stream and Wetland Assessment Management Park project at Duke University most closely demonstrated a campus project designed and developed to address water problems in the campus watershed, while also offering an effective outdoor teaching and research laboratory for hundreds of students, professionals, and researchers. The Olentangy River Wetland Research Park case at Ohio State University exemplified the potential for wetland creation and restoration projects to serve as a facility for educating thousands of students and visitors, training dozens of water experts, and influencing wetland and water resource management beyond the campus. The Radford University Stormwater Treatment Wetland Project case illustrated the potential for institutions with limited space and resources to establish effective outdoor teaching laboratories using environmental features already present or in development on campus.

Findings from the review, survey and case studies all point toward the need and opportunity for institutions of higher education to make greater efforts at implementing and promoting sustainable and integrated water resource management. Literature review and survey findings reveal that water is frequently overlooked as environmental resource at universities and colleges, while other environmental issues such as energy, climate change and recycling are prioritized in sustainability plans and efforts. Universities and colleges have made progress addressing water conservation, while water quality and stormwater need further attention and an integrated approach for more effective management.



Water resources management




Environmental management














An Assessment of Sustainable Water Management at University Campuses






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