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Water and Landscape

Campuswide Opportunities for Water Conservation

As part of its commitment to conserving water, Caltech has converted nearly a quarter of its campus to drought-tolerant landscaping and instituted systems to reclaim condensate from building air-conditioning systems to refill reflecting pools.

California native plants and other drought-tolerant plants cover 17 percent of campus, up from 4 percent in 2012. Low-water landscaping has increased 350 percent since 2012. Every square foot of turf replaced saves 20 gallons of water per year on average. After an exceedingly wet winter, irrigation accounted for just 5 percent of Caltech's water use in 2023.

While these landscaping efforts to reduce irrigation needs would typically solve the majority of a water user's challenges, Caltech's water challenges are more complex. The majority of consumption is related to the production of energy, and many data gaps were identified in a recent water metering and optimization study. Key areas of future emphasis will be closing gaps in data and further investigations into the potential of centralized water reuse at the central plant.

In 2022, Caltech replaced its aging cooling towers at the central utility plant on Wilson Avenue south of California Boulevard. The upgrade, which was focused on energy conservation, noise reduction, and safety, has lead to water savings too. The new towers can reuse water 50 percent longer than typical plants. That matters, given that the utility plants accounted for 51 percent of the water used on campus in 2023.

A bearded person in a t-shirt and ballcap with sunglasses perched on top smiles, apparently mid-sentence. Trees and walkways fill the background.
An Urban Forest

Caltech arborists safeguard the health of the 3,400 trees on Caltech's campus, protecting their environmental and ecological contributions. During construction, mature trees may be moved; when they have to be removed entirely, new ones are planted nearby.