Highlands Cutting-Edge Water Harvesting Cisterns Conserve Water, Beautify Campus

Highlands’ Cutting-Edge Water Harvesting Cisterns Conserve Water, Beautify Campus

New Mexico Highlands University is installing cutting-edge rainwater harvesting cisterns on its main campus, with the latest under construction adjacent to the university’s Centennial Tower Flagship of Diversity on 8th Street.
“We are investing in our infrastructure to both conserve water and beautify our campus environment,” said Bill Taylor, vice president for finance and administration. “These rainwater harvesting systems are just one of the many green initiatives we’ve implemented in the last few years.”
The newest cistern will store rainwater captured from the roofs of the Rodgers Administration Building and the Felix Martinez Building, using the water to irrigate drought-tolerant landscaping for these buildings.
Harvesting rainwater has been practiced for centuries. What’s new is the technology for underground modular cistern systems that capture and distribute rainwater more efficiently.
“Of all the public campuses statewide we are the most affected when there is a drought,” said Marisol Greene, the university’s director of facilities and planning. “We are designing a sustainable campuswide water harvesting system to address our irrigation water needs. Our goal is to become the most water conscious campus in New Mexico.”
Greene added that all new university construction and remodels for existing campus buildings is being done to LEED standards. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a high-level measure of sustainable green building practices that reduce environmental impact and save energy.     
Greene said modular underground cisterns for irrigation were installed at the new residence hall, which opened fall semester 2009. With each heavy rainfall, the cisterns fill to capacity. The system works so well that since the residence hall opened, the university only pumped water once from its Melody Park well for the building’s irrigation cisterns.
Underground water harvesting cisterns are planned for Douglas Hall, the Lora Shields Science Building, and the natatorium.

In addition, when the new student center is built, rainwater cisterns will be installed.

Greene said that eventually all the rainwater cistern systems on campus will link together, and more buildings will gradually be added to the system.
The cistern under construction near the Centennial Tower will be operational by fall semester, when the Felix Martinez building remodel will be completed.
Aqua Nueva, an Albuquerque water management firm, designed the university’s water harvesting systems and supplies the modular cisterns. Franken Construction is the subcontractor installing the systems.
The modular cisterns are assembled onsite and offer greater water storage capability than traditional cisterns. The new cistern holds 90,000 gallons, and upcoming cisterns will add an additional 200,000 gallons of water storage.
“Another advantage of these modular water cisterns is they are flexible and can be sized to fit a building,” Taylor said.
The water harvesting systems also offer the university potential educational opportunities for its students.
Jorden Grimm, operations and capital projects manager, said one goal is to have students do quality monitoring for water conservation under the supervision of science faculty. Grimm is working with faculty such as natural resources professor Edward Martinez to identify possible research projects for students.