Water Conservation at Wingspread

Those of you who live in arid climates may find this hard to believe, but in the parts of Wisconsin that lie along Lake Michigan, water conservation isn’t talked about much.  Milwaukee is working hard to be an international water technology hub, supplying innovation to industry around the globe.  But at the same time, the city is trying to attract water intensive industry by greatly reducing the price of its water for new industrial users and the closest that we come to hearing public messages about water conservation are those focused on postponing (not eliminating) water use during storms so as to not overwhelm the aging sewer infrastructure.

But here at Wingspread, where we rely on the City of Racine’s top-rated water, we have taken steps to significantly reduce our water use.  Guests might notice the low-flow showerheads, the waterless urinal in the men’s bathroom, or the rain barrels that are used for watering some of our potted plants.  Long-time visitors will also notice that each year a bit more of our landscaping is converted to native species, thus reducing not only our water use but also our dependence on added fertilizers.

But probably the biggest change is the one that gets noticed by our controller who processes our monthly water bill.  Until recently, the air conditioner that cools the 14,000 square feet of Wingspread, built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939, pulled in a continual flow of clean potable water from the municipal system.  But last year, under the able leadership of my colleague Don Guzzetta, we installed a closed-loop geothermal system that chills the water using the natural coolness of the earth.  In winter the system works in reverse – the geothermal field pre-warms the water. The net benefit is a reduction of about 1.5 million gallons of water per year, saving us nearly $4,000 per year on our annual water bill (not to mention what it saves on our energy bill).

This is all part of Don’s overall strategy to reduce our environmental footprint.  As a historic facility, we have to work with what we’ve got.  But within that context, Don has also helped us reduce electric use by 25-30% below 2006 levels, increase our recyling and composting while reducing the amount of waste we send to the landfill, acheive LEED Silver certification for existing buildings, and more.  We’ve still got a ways to go, but with Don at the helm I know we’ll get there.

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