Drought Forces Campus Water Rationing

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When asked about UC Santa Cruz’s role in the city’s water usage, environmental studies professor and associate dean of engineering for technology management Brent Haddad called the university a customer, then paused.

“In a sense we are like any other customer, except we happen to be the largest customer,” Haddad said. “We of course have an influence on the overall usage of the city because we are so large.”

Haddad explained UCSC is well within the set water limit by the city, but still recognizes the current water crisis. UCSC accounts for 7 percent of the city’s total water usage, and with the new mandatory 25 percent water ration, the university is taking extra precautions to avoid excess water use and the subsequent fine.

Two committees have recently formed to deal with water restrictions on a short-term and long-term scale. Since February, the Water Shortage Working Group examined current usage and made immediate changes in practices and technology to accommodate the water rationing. Created last month by Chancellor George Blumenthal, The Water Conservation Task Force thinks about long-term plans to support sustainable water usage on campus.

Headed by Physical Planning and Construction senior planner Dean Fitch, the Water Shortage Working Group is working on projects such as installing five minute water timers in dorm and apartment showers and reducing landscape irrigation around campus. Second-year McCall Williams is on both committees and also coordinates the Drip Your Own Drop program through the Student Environmental Center.

“We’re trying to gather all of the water usage information from different departments and gear it toward presenting it to the student body in a very understandable way,” Williams said. “This information is hard to understand at first, so our biggest task is taking that and moving it into outreach material.”

This year Williams could not facilitate the on-campus apartment water usage competition because the information from the water meters could not be accessed quickly enough and was sporadic. She said the physical plant is hoping to get the readings weekly, instead of monthly, during the water rationing period.

As co-chair of the Water Conservation Task Force, Brent Haddad agrees that carefully looking at the way water meters are used on campus is crucial to saving water.

“If you have a lot of water meters and they’re easy to read, you’re in a position to creative incentives with a better link to actual water use, which is different than general exhortations,” Haddad said.

Haddad and Sarah Latham, vice chancellor for business and administration services, put together a team of students and faculty from various facets of campus to plan sustainable long-term water management practices, infrastructure and technology plans.

“Where we find ourselves now is [the committee has] to figure out how the short-term actions affect the long-term options available,” Latham said. “There’s no black and white line between some of the things that can be done in the short term that will impact later down the road, if they will help or hurt us. Each has to be evaluated through a lot of different perspectives.”

Latham acknowledged both the necessary attention put on the current water restrictions, and the difference in dealing with problems now versus in the future. She said cutting down on landscaping and irrigation are practices with immediate results, as well as operational changes. Behavioral changes start with educational awareness and potentially have lasting effects.

Williams said UCSC must reduce 25 percent of the baseline water usage from 2009 — the last drought, when a 15 percent water reduction was voluntary.

“We really only have to save 2 million gallons,” Williams said. “If we can get student housing down even more, we’re not going to have to sacrifice irrigation. If they don’t cooperate, then we are going to have to cut back in other places.”

Williams explained that in 2009 UCSC seriously cut down irrigation during the water rationing period and decreased its overall water usage by 34 percent. She said most fields and lawns were left unwatered, which is most likely what will happen this summer to avoid fines.

“I don’t think we’ll let it get to the point where students will be fined, because irrigation — they’ll just shut it down,” Williams said. “The Arboretum could potentially be in trouble, the Farm could be in trouble, a lot of our sports could be in trouble. Those are going to be the first things to go.”

Representatives from the Arboretum, Farm, OPERS and various other on-campus organizations sit on both committees. Latham said water must be used to maintain any research or educational projects housed at these locations. Brent Haddad agreed that while expensive projects to improve infrastructure and install new technology is necessary to save water in the long term, education is still the top priority.

“To spend anything that’s not a necessity and educational issue needs a high level of justification,” Haddad said. “That doesn’t mean the campus won’t spend money on technology. The campus is willing to spend money to improve the water infrastructure, but it needs a solid justification demonstrating this really is the best way to do it. It should happen now and not sometime in the future.”