Adrian Kulesza

Following the Yale Office of Sustainability’s plan for a greener University by 2025, Silliman College is set to update its irrigation system by the end of the month. Yale Grounds Maintenance will spearhead the upgrade, which involves replacing the clock-based water sensors with wifi-enabled, weather-based sensors.

While the Silliman College upgrade is not the first of its kind — Old Campus, Cross Campus and other large lawns across Yale have undergone similar work — it is a significant step toward the office’s goal of reducing water usage by five percent by the end of 2020.

According to Yale Landscaping and Grounds supervisor Joseph Signore, this renovation is one of many scheduled for 2019 and beyond.

“The great feature of these new smart clocks is that they’re weather-based technology,” he said. “The clock makes adjustments based on this weather information and doesn’t solely rely on rain sensors that typically fail a lot.”

Not only are the new irrigation systems able to control water flow depending on the weather but also they can measure the amount of water coming through the system at any given time. If a leak were to happen, the smart system would be able to sense the abnormal water flow, stop the system and then send an alert signal to the groundskeepers’ smartphones.

“If you were just a homeowner and you had a system, if you had a leak, you’d probably know about it. The problem is, when there’s a dozen of us downtown and you have 150 irrigation systems that you’re trying to manage, this is a vital tool to have in the toolbox,” Signore said.

Signore is no stranger to advanced irrigation technology. After experimenting with the weather-based system at his own home, he convinced the University to aprove upgrades to Yale’s lawns in a similar fashion. In 2016, his team piloted the technology in the courtyard of Berkeley College’s South Court. The encouraging results from this program, he said, led him to expand the new technology to other irrigation networks across campus. Since then, he said, his team has fully renovated the lawns of Old Campus, Cross Campus, the central power plant and Morse College. Partial renovations have already come to Timothy Dwight, Silliman colleges and a portion of Ezra Stiles College.

In addition to replacing the sensors, Signore’s team must rewire the existing setup and change the controller. According to Signore, the upgrade will only take a few days to finish.

Signore added that while the renovations were not directed by Yale, his efforts have been supported by the Office of Sustainability.

“I’ve been using the little bit of money I have every year I put towards improvement projects,” he added. “It wasn’t really a directive set by the University. It’s just been something that I’ve been doing that I’ve been cheered on by the Office of Sustainability.”

Director of the Office of Sustainability Ginger Chapman said that her office is “very supportive” of Signore’s renovations as it “contributes to the reduction of potable water use on campus.”

Chapman added that Yale Grounds Maintenance has also integrated several different sustainable practices into their work. In 2017, the team replaced its diesel-powered landscaping equipment with electricity-powered alternatives. Last August, Signore spearheaded the installation of edible plant and pollinator gardens across campus.

“My philosophy is that I’m involved in a lot of these little different projects that I do on campus to promote stewardship,” he said. “If you report on it, people read about it and that inspires more people to buy in and support these systems and projects.”

According to the 2017 Water Management Plan conducted by the Office of Facilities, Silliman used over 5 million gallons of water during the 2016 fiscal year.

Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu .