Poultry farm manager John Wheeler had noticed the water that was being wasted, but worried there wasn't enough money in the farm's budget for a replacement system. Until, that is, he was asked to serve on a water conservation committee at UConn.
The committee is part of an effort at the university called "Eco Husky," which works on environmentally responsible practices ranging from examining the amount of waste paper used at UConn to promoting environmental education throughout the state.
"Right away, I was pretty excited because I knew there was a chance to get something to help us out," Wheeler says.
When the committee heard Wheeler's idea, it was able to secure the money to get the new drinking system. A study by an engineer determined that the simple, inexpensive change will save the university a whopping 1 million gallons of water a year.
"Can you imagine over 50 years how many gallons we've put back in the ground?" Wheeler asks.
Richard A. Miller, director of UConn's office of environmental policy, says the water conservation effort at the poultry farm is a perfect illustration of Eco Husky's mission.
"It's become sort of a poster child for efforts to identify other opportunities like that on campus," he says.
The new drinkers work by attaching a rubber nipple to containers of water, where a droplet forms. A lightbulb casts light on the droplet, which attracts the chickens, which peck at the drinker until their thirst is slaked.
"They're attracted to it right away, and in a day they learn they can go to that and get a drink of water," Wheeler says.
Wheeler found some used equipment to set up the first new drinker lines, while other equipment is on order and should be installed soon in both coops.
In addition to saving water, Wheeler notes that the new drinkers also save labor. Less water is spilled by the chickens pecking at the new drinkers than with the old bubblers, he says, which means their litter stays much dryer.
"It's a pretty good deal for us," he says. "It was fortuitous that I got asked to serve on that committee."
With this success on the books, Miller says Eco Husky is continuing to find new ways to save water. One of the most important things is to make people understand how much water can be lost on relatively common things, like a leaking toilet.
Most people, for example, might not think that washing machines use much water. But after installing 522 high-efficiency machines on campus, UConn will save roughly 2.6 million gallons of water every year, Miller's department estimates on its Web site.
"We're trying to look at those situations where you have unreported leaks, things like that," he says. "A lot of times it's just people not realizing how to go about reporting the problems and how quickly they can be addressed."
©Journal Inquirer 2004