The map of magenta and blue water lines tacked to the wall of Jesse Ochoa’s office looks like a diagram of veins and arteries of the human heart.
The parallel is fitting, though. With agriculture, livestock, landscaping and the population of a small municipality, water is the lifeblood of Cal Poly Pomona.
Under the feet of the campus community is nearly 30 miles of pipes that supply water to buildings, landscaping, crops, the plumbing system and even the air-conditioning hub. Colored sections of pipes outfitted with meters and sensors that spring up across campus help plumbers monitor and maintain the system, said Ochoa, the manager of building and mechanical services, the department tasked with keeping that pipe network functioning.
Unlike the water supplied to many homes, the local water district is not the sole source of water for the university. Instead, Cal Poly Pomona produces and manages its own water supply and is one of a handful of CSU campuses that holds a permit as a public water system. Cal Poly Pomona is the only university with its own reverse-osmosis water treatment plant, which filters the campus supply of drinking water.
The permit allows the campus to operate like any other water purveyor. Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Water Operations manages the treatment, production, regulatory compliance and water quality sampling for drinkable water used throughout campus. Water Operations falls under the umbrella of services performed by the Department of Facilities Planning & Management.
The simple act of turning on a faucet or filling a bottle at a water station belies the complexity of the university’s water infrastructure, which includes reservoirs, cooling towers, and four wells that date to the time of W.K. Kellogg.
Powerful pumps and huge pipes funnel groundwater from a campus-owned well to the university’s $3.3-million water treatment plant, which was funded by a grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health grant and opened in fall 2015.
Well water is systematically treated into potable water that meets the State Drinking Water Standards. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which conveys water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project in Northern California, is a backup resource for the campus.
The water is processed through a series of membrane filters that remove microscopic contaminants and is then disinfected with chlorine before it reaches faucets on campus. The reverse-osmosis water treatment plant can produce 20,000 gallons of drinking water per hour, which amounts to more than 60 million gallons of drinking water annually.
On a typical school day, 489,000 gallons of potable water are used by the campus community.
“We have a dedicated Water Operations department that operates the reverse-osmosis plant,” said Javier Arreguin, the manager of Water System Operations. “The equipment is only as good as the people who operate and maintain it.”
Two huge tanks, which are tucked away in elevated parts of campus, each store more than 500,000 gallons of potable water produced by the reverse-osmosis plant.
One of the tanks sits at the end of a winding road above Kellogg House. The other tank was built inside a former reservoir on a hill behind Building 1. Ochoa has heard stories about students in the 1970s and early ’80s jumping into the original reservoir for a swim on sweltering days. (Now, students can take a dip in the pool at the Bronco Intramural Recreation Center to cool off.)
The 2016 Water Quality Report found that campus drinking water met or exceeded all health standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Public Health.
The potable water supply also plays a key role in cooling campus buildings during the blistering summer months.
The central cooling plant, which was completed in 1999, sits on a hill adjacent to a towering 2.6-million gallon tank that stores water chilled to 38 degrees Fahrenheit inside the plant. That near-frozen water is used to cool the ambient air in buildings, which amounts to nearly 1.9 million square feet of space.
The central plant cooling towers evaporate 50,000 gallons of potable water a day as part of the process to produce chilled water for air conditioning in buildings. Hydronic pumps send the chilled water to the buildings, where smaller pumps propel the water to fans that cool rooms for faculty, staff and students. The water absorbs heat from the building spaces before returning to the central cooling plant where the water chilling cycle starts again.
“Prior to 1999, every major building was originally designed to provide cooling independently with small localized chillers and cooling towers,” said Ochoa, who has been at Cal Poly Pomona since 2000. “Now, we have centralized about 90 percent of major buildings into one plant.”
The centralized cooling system eliminates the need for each building to have individual air-conditioning units. A state-of-the-art computer program monitors the temperature in all buildings. The system is so precise that it can change the temperature of most spaces with an app from a smart phone.
Another major component of the campus water system is a 2-million-gallon reservoir of reclaimed water that is used to irrigate crops and landscaping. A vast majority of the water used on campus comes from reclaimed sources.
The reservoir is surrounded by a chain-link fence and sits on a plateau overlooking Parking Lot M and the College of Environmental Design. Pumps are constantly running to keep the reservoir filled at all times, and plans are in place to replace the cover and liner on the reservoir to safeguard the water quality and reduce evaporation and leaks.
The reclaimed water is conveyed to the reservoir by pumps and a long series of underground pipes from a well and blended with purchased reclaimed water from the city of Pomona.
The university has four wells, one for drinking water and three set aside for irrigation, that are situated within a 1.5-mile radius from the center of campus. Two of the wells are located on Spadra Farm. Using well water for irrigation dates to the time of W.K. Kellogg.
During the height of a historic drought in 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory statewide water-use reductions.
Cal Poly Pomona aimed for a 25 percent reduction in water use. Some of the measures taken at the time included the installation of low-flow restroom fixtures and urinals that use as little as a pint of water per flush. Improving the efficiencies of agricultural operations also was instituted.
Water is a valuable commodity. One of the goals of the Facilities Planning & Management department is to conserve water through oversight. Plans are in the works to convert the cooling towers to use reclaimed water and conserve drinking water, Ochoa said. That change could conserve 1.1 million gallons of drinkable water each year.
“If we can save the potable water and use reclaimed water, that’s great for the university,” said Ochoa. “Sustainability is the statement we are trying to make.”