New Meters Promise Less Wasted Water at University of Southern California

To detect leaks and promote sustainability, the university is installing ultrasonic submeters on dozens of older buildings and cooling towers

New Meters Promise Less Wasted Water at University of Southern California

Juan Blake attaches electronic water meter sensors to Webb Tower's main water line. Once calibrated, the system will provide real-time water usage data. (Photo courtesy of USC/Gus Ruelas)

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The days of free-flowing water are coming to an end across the University of Southern California’s University Park Campus. One by one, water submeters are being installed to count every gallon, giving facilities managers the data they need to track trends, detect leaks and strategize water conservation.

The work is important as the university seeks to reduce wasteful practices and support California’s efforts to conserve water in today’s drought conditions and tomorrow’s hotter climate. Urgency has increased due to the emergency drought conditions the state announced earlier in July.

So far, 27 meters have been installed, with 30 more slated by year’s end. They’re keeping an eye on water use at older buildings and cooling towers, and fountains and irrigation mains may be next in line.

The process caused little disruption earlier this year when buildings were largely empty because of the COVID-19 shutdown. At that time, traditional pulse meters were embedded in the water lines. Those devices employ a rotating disc and a magnet to send a pulse to a meter each time the disc revolves.

Ultrasonic meters, which are essentially strapped to an exposed part of the pipe, have made the process faster and less invasive. They have no moving parts and don’t require pipe cutting or digging. The ultrasonic devices send a sound wave through the water to get a read on its velocity in order to calculate flow.

The water-watching devices being added to USC buildings are referred to as submeters because they work downstream of USC’s three main Los Angeles Department of Water and Power meters. Those older master meters have been in place for decades and determine the campus’ overall usage, though they do little to pinpoint when and where most water is being consumed.

University Park Campus buildings that went up in 2014 and after — like those at USC Village — are already metered. At the Health Sciences Campus, all buildings have been metered since they were built.

Water meter installations contribute to sustainability goals at USC and complement low-flow faucets the university installed earlier this year.


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