UCSC Faces Water Cutbacks

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Projecting 2014 to be the “driest year on record” for California, Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a drought emergency as of Jan. 17. Normal rainfall at this time runs at about 12 inches, whereas this year there was only approximately 1.3 inches, or one-tenth of the usual amount, according to the Santa Cruz Water Department.

A day after a similar announcement was given by University of California President Janet Napolitano, Gov. Brown’s announcement established a new goal of reducing per capita water use 20 percent throughout the UC system by the year 2020.

Though the water cutback goal is a long-term solution, the Santa Cruz Water Department is preparing for a possible third straight year of dry weather as well as making modifications to implement water rationing, should it be needed. Unlike many other communities, Santa Cruz is 100 percent dependent upon local rainfall for its water supply. Due to drought conditions, Santa Cruz is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

UC Santa Cruz is the city’s largest single water customer, using about 6 percent of the total area water demand, or an average of 206 million gallons per year (MGY), according to the Campus Sustainability Plan’s goals and objectives, developed by UCSC’s Office of Sustainability.

“There has been a tenuous relationship between the UC system and the city regarding water, but the people who actually work here have a really proactive, great relationship with the city,” said campus energy manager Patrick Testoni.

This sustainability plan also categorizes main campus water usage, with residential as the largest usage at 49 percent, irrigation at 22 percent, academic at 11 percent, dining hall at 7 percent, mechanical at 5 percent, laboratory at 4 percent and recreational at 2 percent.

Created in 2009 and still currently in effect, the Santa Cruz Water Shortage Contingency Plan uses a staged approach into one of five levels spanning from a range of 5 percent to 50 percent water cutbacks. This plan identifies irrigation as one of the first designated areas for water restriction.

“We’re expecting anywhere from stage one to three [water reduction] this year,” Testoni said in reference to a 66 percent reduction in irrigation. “Non-critical irrigation areas will be identified and water will be reduced.”

The extremity of this drought is demanding the campus community to look together for areas to conserve water, said director of horticulture Brett Hall.

“The truth is, [UCSC’s Arboretum] could cut back on water usage,” Hall said. “One way will be by routing through the old watering system to find leaks. We need to modernize and replace slow-drip systems with meters.”

Though the Arboretum specializes in care for many exotic and drought-tolerant plants, the Arboretum’s staff is preparing for the worst, Hall said. The Arboretum is beginning to select the plants that will be watered based on a hierarchy of needs as means to do its part in cutbacks, Hall said.

“I expect some things are going to die — this is an extreme event,” Hall said.

Essentially, select plans can survive if subject to extremely dry conditions without water.

“We put a focus on drought-tolerant plants, many of which have a buffer,” said Arboretum director of development Stephen McCade.

Though UCSC already completed several water retrofitting projects, including replacing hundreds of 3.5-5.0 gallon per flush toilets to 1.6 gallon per flush, the campus will need to identify and apply additional improvements to reduce water consumption or increase efficiency.

Such improvements require accurate measuring systems, such as the Rain Master, a recently implemented system that uses weather forecasting and plant type to water plants accordingly, Testoni said.

“I don’t think people are taking water conservation as seriously as we should be,” said third-year environmental studies and evolutionary biology double major Montse Plascencia, who also works at the Arboretum. “This drought is a huge realization that we need to be taking large steps toward conserving our water.”

In light of the decreased rainfall, the city also urges residents to shut off any automatic irrigation systems for the time being, given that irrigation is considered non-necessary in stages two and up.

“We are working as hard as we can to reduce our water,” McCabe said. “[The Arboretum provides] a series of lectures that are free for students on extraordinary plants, including a talk on drought-tolerant plants.”

In the next few weeks more signage will appear around campus, hopefully bolstering drought awareness, campus energy manager Patrick Testoni said. There will also be a meeting held in early February with UCSC water managers to discuss the campus’ response to the projected water shortage. A new draft plan is being complied, though it is not currently ready for public viewing, Testoni said.

While the current drought emergency calls for urgent attention to water conservation, Hall said water conservation should be a concern regardless of drought conditions.

“We should always be saving water, not just in a drought,” Hall said.