Water Conservation

In 2015, USC set a goal to decrease potable water use by 25% by 2020. Although we have achieved just a 10% reduction in potable water use (baseline 2014), this shortfall is almost entirely due to a delay in the the City of Los Angeles’s delivery of recycled water to the University Park Campus. In 2019, Facilities Management Services (FMS) completed the main “purple pipe” infrastructure required to receive recycled water from the City for irrigation and industrial use at UPC, and we now await the LADWP’s direction on the next phase of the project. We are also advancing toward our water conservation goal by expanding metering to improve our data on water use, prioritizing mitigation strategies by cost and effectiveness, and continuing behavior change awareness campaigns.

Water conservation efforts at USC fall into four areas of focus:

  • Use of drought-tolerant plants and in-ground irrigation in all non-turf, non-park/play spaces and outdoor recreation areas
  • Installation of high-efficiency, low-flow water fixtures throughout all campus buildings
  • Building out the “purple pipe” infrastructure needed to receive and distribute recycled water from the city for irrigation and industrial uses
  • Stormwater capture/infiltration


Water Conservation Initiatives

Drought Tolerant Landscaping

Wherever possible, drought-tolerant plants are being incorporated on the University Park Campus and the Health Sciences Campus. These landscaping changes have already yielded up to 43 percent water savings for the converted areas.

Proposals for additional drought-tolerant plant conversions are reviewed by Facilities Management Services on an ongoing basis.

At the Health Sciences Campus, a major beautification project is adding many native and drought-tolerant plants and local trees. Although non-native plants are sometimes used in USC landscaping for aesthetic reasons and to promote disease resistance, they tend to be drought-tolerant species from climates and soils similar to Southern California’s.

Drip Irrigation

Much of the non-turf landscaping area on the University Park Campus already uses drip irrigation, and three-quarters of the landscaping around the Health Sciences Campus have now been converted to drip systems, which will greatly improve USC’s water efficiency. 

The difference in water usage for a standard spray head versus a drip emitter is 120 gallons per hour versus half a gallon per hour. This slower application rate further increases efficiency by reducing water runoff and evaporation due to direct application to plant roots.

Smart Irrigation

Approximately 90 percent of the irrigation at UPC utilizes central irrigation controllers and weather-based sensors.

Over both campuses, Facilities Management Services currently maintains 152 irrigation controllers, 112 of which are now “smart” CALSENSE units.

Low-Flow Water Fixtures

Facilities Management Services is replacing outdated water fixtures across the University Park Campus—replacing sink faucets, showerheads, and other fixtures with new, low-flow models. Since 2015, USC Housing has replaced approximately 6,800 old water fixtures, and installation of the remaining 1,200 water fixtures in non-housing buildings will be completed by 2020. USC also has implemented standard practices for all new construction projects on both the University Park and Health Sciences campuses to improve water conservation efforts.

Keck Hospital Water Fixture Program

Partnering with WaterSavers consulting, Keck Hospital installed over 1,600 flow restrictors on sinks in the hospital and replaced 259 showerheads and 79 dialysis flow restrictors.

Shower Timers

To encourage students living on campus to use water more efficiently, USC Housing has installed shower timers in all university-owned apartments and suite style bathrooms.

Students in other USC Housing buildings can request a shower timer by contacting their Customer Service Center.

Recycled Water Utilization

USC supports the city’s Downtown Recycling Project No. 51066. In partnership with the L.A. Department of Water and Power, this “purple pipe” project will bring recycled water to the University Park Campus for irrigation and industrial uses. USC is now waiting for the City to deliver recycled water to the UPC campus (ETA 2024), at which point the University will complete the recycled water piping for site specific irrigation and cooling tower distribution.

Recycled Water Master Plan Map (as of 4/13/21)

USC Village Stormwater Capture/Infiltration

The USC Village rainwater system consists of six separate filters and deep dry wells which treat the 26,000 cubic feet of rain runoff before sending it to recharge the groundwater aquifer. In an area with a dry climate, this infiltration system is an important part of USC’s resilience planning.

Stormwater Policy

Since 2012, all new building construction has met the city’s Low Impact Development (LID) requirements to recharge the groundwater aquifer with stormwater from a 24-Hour 85th Percentile Storm. That translates to 28 stormwater systems on the University Park Campus.

The following facilities have LID infiltration systems:

Archimedes Plaza King-Stoops Hall (University Club)
Childs Way Hardscape – Trousdale to Pardee McClintock Hardscape – Jefferson to Childs Way
Childs Way Hardscape – Marks Hall Michelson Hall
Childs Way Hardscape – McClintock to Trousdale School of Cinematic Arts, bldgs. B, C, D, E, I
Dauterive Hall Shrine Parking Structure
David Marks Tennis Stadium Tutor Campus Center
Denny Research Center University Village Buildings
Downey Way/McClintock Hardscape Uytengsu Aquatics Center
Engemann Student Health Center Vermont/Jefferson Parking Lot (1)
Fertitta Hall Wallis Annenberg Hall
John McKay Center Zemeckis Center for Digital Arts
Kaufman International Dance Center Parking Lot 2 (between SGM, GFS & HNB)

Campus buildings constructed between 2000-12 met the city’s Standard Urban Stormwater Mitigation Plan (SUSMP), the precursor to the LID ordinance. SUSMP standards apply to the following facilities:

Arts and Humanities Residential College at Parkside Irani Hall
Cinematic Arts Building A Technical Theatre Laboratory
Figueroa Street Parking Structure Tutor Hall
Flower Street Parking Center USC Credit Union
Galen Center


State and Local Water Regulations

Pertinent regulations that shape USC’s efforts include:

  • AB 1688  – This bill would require the State Water Resources Control Board, in coordination with the Department of Water Resources, to adopt long-term standards for the efficient use of water, and establish performance measures for commercial, industrial, and institutional water use on or before June 30, 2022. The bill would establish 55 gallons per capita daily as the standard for indoor residential water use, beginning January 1, 2025.


Planning for Sustainability 2028

As the university begins the process of developing its Sustainability 2028 Plan, we must fully explore the feasibility of achieving net-zero water consumption. In preparing our plan proposal, stakeholders must factor in the following:

  • LADWP has no plan to bring recycled water to the Health Sciences Campus.
  • The groundwater table on the Health Sciences Campus is too high to allow for stormwater infiltration, so the university captures and treats the water before sending it into the city’s storm drain system.
  • Annual rainfall in Los Angeles is insufficient to make a large-scale rainwater capture and re-use storage system financially viable.

See below for notes from the Sustainability Steering Committee’s 2028 Planning water meetings: