Santa Clara University


Faces of Sustainability

Gary Vargas, Facilities: Water-Saving Strategist

Gary Vargas, Facilities: Water-Saving Strategist

With California facing one of the most serious droughts in history, SCU is committed to reducing our water consumption by 20%. While the University must change its habits to reach this goal, the Facilities Department plays a central role as manager of many campus operations involving water usage. We spoke with Gary Vargas, landscape maintenance supervisor, to understand exactly what Facilities is doing to mitigate water waste around campus.

In the 16 years that Gary has been a part of SCU staff, one of his main projects has been establishing more water-efficient landscaping. “Reclaimed water irrigation has been in place for approximately 10 years, on 85% of the campus,” Gary explains. “The only part of campus using potable (a.k.a. drinkable) water is the Mission Gardens area (and a few areas we can't use recycled water).” This is due to infrastructure and the history of the area. We don't yet fully understand the long-term effects of irrigating with recycled water in sensitive areas, so we've delayed use of recycled water in some specific areas on campus. Around campus, Gary and his team have added drought-resistant, native Californian plants like “deer grass, sage, iris, and society garlic.” The campus also has native sycamores and oaks, some of which have been standing since before the University was established.

In our plans to reduce water usage even further, “the Landscaping department [of Facilities] will cut as much water as possible from irrigation.” He adds that in the winter months, they usually “cut back at least 70%” in the Mission Gardens anyway, due to weather. However, Facilities can’t possibly solve this University issue without the help of students, staff, and faculty. His recommendation? “Students could help with less time spent in the shower, and not ordering dunk tanks this year at school events.” If that comes as a surprise, consider that one dunk tank often holds up to 200 gallons of perfect drinking water, which, of course, becomes non-reusable after the first “dunk.”

Gary finds that water efficiency and reduction is critical to the health of our state, both environmentally and economically. “California absolutely needs the water for agriculture and our rivers and streams,” Gary expresses, assessing the importance for state food resources, livelihoods, and waterway integrity. To keep a thriving educational environment on our campus, the SCU population, as a whole, must adopt water-saving practices.

Contributed by Blair Libby ‘16, Sustainability Intern, Waste Diversion

Tags: Profiles, Water

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