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Drought: The Call to Conserve Water

Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2014

California's drought
Drought is broadly defined as “a period in which rainfall is below the statistical average expected for that location” by the Environmental Literacy Council, but as the National Drought Mitigation Center explains, droughts [conditions] are a bit more nuanced. Drought is specific for each location, and California’s conditions are making for the state’s third dry rainy season in a row. As of the beginning of February, the Bay Area has seen less than 1/10th of the rain normally received at that point during the wet season (since Oct. 1), to the extent that “forecasters say rain would have to fall every day through May - and heavily - to bring conditions back to normal.”

The state’s drought has been gaining attention around the country, as President Obama visited Fresno on February 14th to speak to farmers, and pledged $183 million from existing federal funds for statewide drought relief programs. The drought is so bad it can even be seen from space. One of NASA’s climate scientists wrote that if he were to be given the satellite image without a date, he would think that, ‘this is California in early fall after a long, hot summer’.”

The Board of Directors for our Santa Clara Valley Water District, which oversees the 1.8 million residents of Santa Clara County and 13 water retailers, have asked people to curb consumption by 20% from 2013 water use, doubling what they asked for just a month ago at the end of January. Retailers will have to decide on either mandatory rationing or stricter rules to reach the target goal. In other areas, rationing has been set for April: St. Helena, in Napa County, will ration water, limiting each citizen to 65 gallons of water per day (1/3rd of the state average) with each additional gallon costing $0.50. As most conventional US shower fixtures pump water at 5 or more gallons per minute, a ten-minute shower alone would put someone over their daily water amount.

Conservation at Santa Clara University's campus
Our University has also responded to Governor Brown’s declaration with a goal to reduce our potable water usage by 20 percent. Thanks to University Operations and Facilities, our campus already has a lot of initiatives in place to minimize water usage. Ever seen those big purple pipes around campus? Those are carrying recycled water to our palms and plants! More than 85% of our campus landscape is irrigated with this recycled water, which represents about 40% of total campus water use. Low-flow showerheads in nearly all residence halls, low-flow toilets, water-free urinals, and keeping tabs on usage through real-time building water meters are all technical solutions around campus that add to a more sustainable physical infrastructure. Our water-free urinals alone are estimated to save an average of 40,000 gallons of water per urinal per year. (With 215 of these urinals around campus since 2005, this amounts to 8.6 million gallons being conserved per year) For more facts and figures check out Facilities’ “Recycling of Water” page

Join us in conserving water
While these technical advantages give us a big jump on saving water, it is our collective actions that make the difference in conservation. Many everyday habit changes both on and off-campus can add up:

-Please report any leaks right away to Facilities: (408-554-2742) or
-Cut a minute or two off your shower time, or turn the water off while soaping up
-Utilize dishwashers and laundry machines efficiently by filling them completely rather than only partially
-Tell others about the drought, and act with your house, floor or office to consciously use less water every day
-Educate yourself further. Attend the Food & Agribusiness Institute’s (FAI) and CLASP events during their drought information series, which will educate students and members of the community about how real and immediate the situation is, whom it affects, and what we can do to make sure we are conserving.

FAI & CLASP Spring Quarter's Drought Series include:

  • 4/2/14: Panel with representatives from the department of water resources
  • 4/3/14: Conversation with both a large and small-scale farmers to talk about the impact of the drought
  • 4/29/14: Speaker from Ecopia Farms (farm which grows lettuce with 90% less water than average)

Contributed by Claire Overholt '14, Sustainability Intern, Student Engagement

Drought. Photo courtesy of (laparedesf) Stock.XCHNG.

Tags: Program Highlights, Water



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