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Volume 22 No. 19
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Water conservation draws added interest

Since Levi’s Stadium opened last July, the vast majority of the water used by the facility has flowed through purple pipes. The color designates them as channels carrying recycled water, which the 49ers say consistently has accounted for 70 percent of all water usage during the past year.

While sports properties and facilities across the country are making efforts to conserve natural resources, there is a particular emphasis on the cause west of the Rocky Mountains. Approximately 72 percent of that region, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, is experiencing some degree of drought, including 17 percent categorized as “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. A whopping 71 percent of California, more than any other state, falls under the two most severe designations.

In response, sports properties in the area are taking steps to reduce their own water usage and to generate awareness of how others can do the same.

Even since opening a stadium given LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, the 49ers have continued to find ways to conserve even more water.

Displays at the Waste Management Phoenix Open highlighted the need for water conservation.
Photo by: Waste Management Phoenix Open
“We’ve got a leg up on everybody, but even still we want to be mindful. If we can conserve that recycled water, why don’t we?,” said Jim Mercurio, 49ers vice president of stadium operations and security.

The team in May installed a 23,000-square-foot artificial turf “track” around its playing surface, which Mercurio expects will reduce water usage on the field by 20 percent. In addition, Levi’s Stadium fundamentally has changed the way its staff goes about cleaning seating areas. “We’ve made a switch now from three-quarter-inch lines to power washing, which takes almost half the amount of water that we’re using to clean this building,” Mercurio said.

The difference between the two methods is substantial. While a typical hose puts out between six to 10 gallons per minute, a pressure washer only uses between two to five. In the case of cleaning Levi’s Stadium, Mercurio said that while the hoses used about 16,000 gallons per hour, the power washers use approximately 3,000 gallons per hour.

At a golf tournament 750 miles southeast, the organizers of the Waste Management Phoenix Open also have taken up the cause of water conservation. Golf courses are notorious for requiring an inordinate amount of water; a typical golf course can require 100,000 to 1 million gallons per week in the summer, according to the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

While tournament organizers have sought to limit usage — water used for cooking and cleaning is reused in portable toilets, for instance — they revealed in their most recent sustainability report that the 2014 event consumed 76,320 gallons of fresh water, about a 37 percent increase from the previous year. An additional 16,342 gallons were sold as bottled water.

But last year, title sponsor Waste Management began purchasing Water Restoration Certificates from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to offset water consumed by each year’s event. Money raised through the sale of WRCs is invested in projects designed to restore the equivalent amount of water to rivers, streams and wetlands. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation reviews all WRC flow restoration projects.

On the education and awareness front, the tournament this year began sponsoring the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Change The Course campaign, through which attendees and fans at home pledged online or via text message to save water. For each pledge, Waste Management purchased WRCs to restore 1,000 gallons of water.

On the tournament grounds, fans could pose for photos behind “mug boards,” each depicting a different scenario with the theme, “Life Without Water Is Awkward.” The cutout scenes included a person trying to raft down rapids, take a shower or go swimming, each without water. The funny photos made for social media fodder, creating more awareness of the campaign.

In addition to the Phoenix Open, three NHL teams — the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Minnesota Wild — sponsor the Change The Course campaign. The Ducks, based in the heart of the drought-affected region, also have worked with the city of Anaheim to disseminate water conservation messages on the team’s various marquees, freeway billboards and in-arena screens.

“We have not only an obligation but an opportunity to use ourselves as a voice for something as important as this,” said Tim Ryan, Ducks executive vice president and COO.

At the Honda Center, the Ducks have implemented several water-saving measures, including reduced-flow shower heads in locker rooms, cutbacks on landscaping and power washing, and smaller eight-ounce glasses of water with food, only upon request.

“Everybody is doing everything they can to be diligent about water conservation, and what it is for us is a constant monitoring process,” Ryan said. “Until we get a significant amount of rainfall, it’s going to remain top of mind.”

At the league level, the NHL runs its own Gallons For Goals campaign, which involves the purchase of WRCs to restore 1,000 gallons for each goal scored over the course of the season. That totaled more than 6.5 million gallons for the 2014-15 season.

Alex Silverman writes for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.