Greener Waters

The new showerheads are good, but Harvard should let discontented students opt out

Water isn’t flowing as freely as it used to, at least not in student showers. Over the summer, Harvard Yard Operations introduced low flow showerheads, which use only 1.6 gallons of water per minute instead of 2.5, into several of the Houses and freshman dorms. Leverett, Mather, and Dunster received the new heads over the summer, and the showerheads are currently being installed in other Houses and the freshman dorms. All told, it is expected that the new showerheads will save close to 2.5 million gallons of water and $40,000 per year, which is clearly a boon to the environment and a step in the right direction.

Students’ comments on the new showers, however, have been mixed: a Mather resident mysteriously found that the low flow showerhead improved water pressure, but students from other Houses and freshman dorms have complained that their water pressure has decreased and that it now takes longer to wash. Many students, however, have said they cannot tell the difference. Leverett House Building Manager Paul J. Hegarty told The Crimson that students there have not complained, suggesting that the majority have not had a problem.

We commend Harvard for its attention to saving water and in particular for finding a way to do so that has a low impact on most students’ lives. Energy efficiency has been a theme of the past few months from Allston to President Faust’s installation. Harvard should be commended not only for committing to be a leader on environmental issues but also for following up its rhetoric with action.

At the same time, the purpose of green initiatives is not to inconvenience students. Those who feel that the new showerheads are a real detriment to their lives should be given the option of getting their old showerheads back. Students should not be forced to sacrifice their quality of life—if that is what they feel is at stake—in order to save a few gallons of water. Changing a showerhead takes only a few minutes, and, because the program is being implemented in phases, we hope that Harvard would be able to adjust its purchase of new showerheads so that money will not be wasted on unwanted ones.

That being said, the University should make the switch to green showerheads an “opt-out” choice. We expect that the number of students who are discontent enough to make such a request will be low, meaning that an opt-out policy will save Harvard almost as much water as originally predicted while keeping students who just can’t part with their water pressure content.

Showerheads, though, should not be the only way in which Harvard curbs its water use. We cannot help but wonder how else Harvard could trim water-use habits. The next frontier, however, seems obvious: cutting use of sprinklers, particularly in autumn. After all, if Harvard is going to ask its students to use less water, can’t it do the same with its lawns?