A greener solution to the Sombrilla Fountain issue

In “Commentary” (March 27), staff writer Cliff Perez lists among his “UTSA pet peeves” that the Sombrilla fountain isn’t running. “Why is the water fountain currently off?” Perez asks. “While I recognize that the cost of running a fountain 24/7 might be excessive or indulgent, I still feel that the ambiance of the Sombrilla could be greatly improved with a little rushing water sound.”

For nearly a year, April 2011 to early March 2012, the fountain was off not because of expense, but drought. According to SAWS, when the Edwards Aquifer index well falls below 660 feet mean sea level, “use of fountains, waterfalls, or other aesthetic water features – outdoors or indoors – is prohibited, unless a variance has been granted for 100 percent [non-drinkable] water use.” In other words, since UTSA’s fountains don’t use recycled water, they had to be turned off.

Thankfully, recent rains allowed SAWS to lift drought restrictions on March 5, which means UTSA may run the long-dry fountain again-and I agree with Perez: the sound of rushing water in the Sombrilla would be refreshing (as temperatures creep higher) and soothing (as finals creep closer).

Yet, although it’s permitted, is it prudent to run the fountain with drinking-quality water, with last year’s drought still so fresh in mind? Probably not, if other options exist. One option, according to SAWS Conservation Director Karen Guz, is using air conditioning condensate from campus buildings to run the fountain. It’s not such a crazy idea; after all, La Cantera mall does it. The mall has, Guz writes, “more than enough” condensate to run its numerous water features despite the drought.

Sure, retrofitting the fountain might be challenging, but we have the brainpower on campus to make it happen. And since UTSA is already a leader in water stewardship (we recently won the SAWS “Refreshing Ideas” award), I think we have the will, too. So let’s bring back the Sombrilla fountain-in a water-wise way.