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Sprinkler System Inefficiently Spritzes Institutes Sidewalks

Column by Erik S. Balsley
Sports Editor

You know the song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," but have you ever felt those raindrops as you walk across campus? For the past two weeks or so, every morning as I walk along the sidewalk from Tang to campus, I have. However, the drops aren't from the sky but from MIT's own sprinkler system.

Normally, I wouldn't complain about getting heavily misted by a sprinkler on a humid day, but when I turned on the news to hear reports about a water emergency for eastern Massachusetts, my ears immediately perked up.

As a kid, I loved running through the sprinkler. However, the current sprinkling pattern bears no similarity to childhood fun. I must dodge moving streams of water on my way to work. On a humid day, sitting in an office waiting for the water to evaporate from my clothes is not at all fun and very uncomfortable.

I can stand this inconvenience, but I'm also very concerned by what's being watered and when. As I recently made my morning walk to work, I realized that the lawns are not the only things getting watered, the sidewalks along Amherst Alley and a good portion of the street are getting irrigated as well.

I also noticed that the sprinklers on Kresge Oval were watering the lawn and sidewalks at odd times of the day. They were on when I walked by at 4 a.m. the other day.

Most people have concerns about the times when lawns can be best watered, and the conventional wisdom is that watering during the middle of the day is a no-no. Others believe that one should not water lawns during the night. Given that MIT is watering its lawns at all hours of the day and night, it seems reasonable to conclude that some watering is occurring when it shouldn't.

Given the water emergency I began to ask, "What gives with the wasteful watering?" Normally the waste would catch my eye and just cause some concern, but given the circumstances, I became very upset.

Is MIT trying to set an example for the rest of eastern Massachusetts with its extravagant watering? Did re-engineering attack wasteful uses of resources in the dead of winter and therefore overlooked the sprinkler system? I have a funny feeling the answer to both questions is no. The waste continues.

I have some familiarity with the water and sewerage infrastructure of the greater metropolitan Boston area. I know that the water rates charged by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to the 43 communities to which it provides water are the highest in the nation because of the Boston Harbor Cleanup. I also know that in most cases, Cambridge does not receive water from the MWRA and does not have to pay the same high rates for its water as the communities around it. It is therefore perhaps cheaper for MIT to wastefully water than it is for another school in Boston.

But this isn't really an excuse. As I look at it, there are a few things that should be done to eliminate some of this waste. Watering could be done at one of the two optimal times of the day - right before dawn or right before dusk. However, this may be hard to do given the amount of greenery on this campus without causing a significant drop in the water pressure. Perhaps a watering every other day may be an option for many grassy areas on campus. But whatever is decided, MIT should not be watering the lawns 24 hours a day as it is now.

MITshould also stop watering its sidewalks, gravel, and streets. There must be ways to create more efficient watering patterns with the sprinklers. If they can drip irrigate large portions of some deserts, why can't MITbe more efficient in its water use?

Wasting water is inefficient. There is only a limited supply of water available for use, and it can be economically and environmentally costly to waste this resource. Given that MIT prides itself as an efficient institution of learning, can't we do any better on watering the lawn?