The University of Arkansas, Fort Smith’s grounds management team Southeast Service Corporation was presented the Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply and Audubon International Water and Sustainability Innovation Award Jan. 15 for their overhaul of UAFS irrigation systems and their continuing commitment to sustainability on campus. The honor recognizes landscape companies, organizations and municipalities for sustainable, water-efficient projects that strive to impact environmental and economic health and quality of life.
“Sustainability is more than money savings or water use reduction; it is a way of life,” says Matt Rich, grounds manager for SSC Services for Education at UAFS. “This national award proves our collaborative efforts in sustainability and water conservation. Our commitment to this work shows in everything we do at UAFS.”
“We set a goal to fully assess and properly maintain the irrigation system, and with student and staff help we were able to track data and identify problem areas, as well as provide a learning opportunity for the campus members who helped us meet these goals,” says Rich.
SSC took over grounds management at UAFS in 2017, at which time water use was rising, leaks were prevalent and issues with installation and scheduling caused a bottleneck of resources. “We started with the basics and fixed all the leaks over the first few months,” says Rich. He and his team continued to implement creative and impactful changes, performing an extensive overhaul of the irrigation system over the course of the next few years.
“We involved many student groups at our university. We educated and built systems together in a collaborative effort to understand the problem and to create the overall solution,” says Rich, who takes pride in the culture of transparency and active listening he has influenced among his team. “After identifying all of the irrigation on our 168-acre campus, we started to change the way irrigation was discussed.”
“We are using our creativity to maximize the efficiency on our campus. We are combining new integrated technology, such as auto-mowers and smart controllers, to control the irrigation system and original practices like xeriscaping,” he says. “And we have created a cycle of internal investments that support each other and help with future innovations that may come available.”Thanks to the sustainability efforts, the campus has reduced irrigation water use by 42.6%, saving the university nearly $90,000. UAFS plans to invest these savings in additional sustainable initiatives, including installing LED lighting and changing water sources to nonpotable water.