Colleges Address Drought, Strategies to Reduce Water Use

To respond to the worst
drought in California’s recorded history, Scripps College’s Garrison Theater hosted a
conference entitled “Water Scarcity and Solutions: Global to Local” on Saturday, March 1. The event, which was presented by the Claremont-based think tank American Institute for Progressive Democracy, emphasized the connection between global and local water usage.

The daylong event featured water professionals and environmental experts, including Pitzer College environmental analysis professor Brinda Sarathy, Pitzer biology professor Branwen Williams, and Pomona College environmental analysis professor Char Miller PZ ’75.  

“These water issues that we seem to
be addressing here, or at least are confronting, are actually true in a lot of
places that look like Southern California and that don’t look like Southern
California,” Miller, the director of the 5C environmental analysis program, said in an interview with TSL. “Best
practice would be if you figure out what other people are doing, and try to
figure out if what they’re doing makes sense to do here.”

Students who attended the
conference said that the event emphasized the value of working together as a community to solve California’s water problems.

“It’s easy to forget that we’re in a
desert because we have this lifestyle that’s so dependent on water, but we
don’t use it properly,” said Katherine Shearer SC ’17, who attended the conference. “By
reaching out of our bubble, we can look towards others who do use their water
well, and effectively address the problems made apparent by this drought.”

Brian Worley, the director of Facilities and Campus Services at Claremont McKenna College, discussed the importance of addressing water issues on a broader scale, specifically regarding student behavior. 

“The colleges draw from a broad
spectrum of student populations … and certainly those coming here from other
regions may not be aware because there’s the sense that there’s plenty of
water,” Worley said. “I think people just need to work on raising everybody’s
awareness to what’s going on.”   

Grounds departments at the colleges have already
taken steps to conserve water on campus in light of the drought. 

“We’ve reduced the water days on turf
grounds, so we’re scheduled to irrigate three days a week,” said Kevin Quanstrom, the assistant director of Grounds and Housekeeping at Pomona. “Prior
to this storm, we were watering about twice a week, which is a cutback from
four days a week.”

Both Worley and Quanstrom said that CMC and Pomona continue to use a weather-based irrigation system, which detects whether water is needed based on the amount of water lost through the soil and the plant itself through

Some students, however, are still concerned about water use on campus.

“I think we could be doing more to
save water,” Shearer said. “Obviously a lot of it has to be long-term if we
want to make our campus more water-friendly than it is, but I feel like every
time I walk outside the sprinklers are going off. What’s more important, green
grass or water?”

Speakers at the conference emphasized additional steps that the colleges and the local Claremont
community could be taking to conserve water.

“The city and the campuses in
Claremont have a chance to act on water issues more quickly than, say, the
federal government or the state government can because we’re small entities,
and we essentially control the landscapes that we inhabit,” Miller said. “Trying to capture that underground watershed is something that the
colleges are, in fits and starts, doing, and something that the city is
thinking about, but has not yet done.”

Still, representatives from the grounds departments say that the colleges are making reasonable progress toward improving water conservation. 

“A balance of the campus resources
and sustainable practices is what our campus is striving for,” wrote Lola Trafecanty, the director of Grounds at Scripps, in an email to TSL. “We all
have to be mindful that some things are also costly and we cannot accomplish
all that we wish to do in one year; however, we have done a lot throughout the
history which promote conservation of water.”

Trafecanty added that the Scripps Grounds Department continues to
work with the Scripps Water Task Force to locate and repair broken
sprinklers that might otherwise lead to wasted water.

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