by Emma Saso
California is in trouble. After observing the lowest rainfall levels over a four year period in recorded history (2011 to 2015), it’s no denying that California is facing a major crisis.
On April first of this year, Governor Brown instated a mandatory 25 percent reduction on urban water consumption across the state. Further, the city of Claremont has been tasked with a 32 percent mandatory water reduction rate in comparison to 2013. Having adopted a sustainable mindset, Claremont has already met and surpassed its goal by an additional 12 percent totaling a 44 percent reduction in overall water consumption (Golden State Water Company).
Pitzer, named greenest campus in the US in 2014 by Niche, with its new LEED certified buildings and commitment to a 25 percent carbon emission reduction by 2016, has historically been at the forefront of sustainability awareness and innovation.
The college’s response to our drought has not strayed from this eco-mentality. Realizing its central location in the overpopulated desert of Southern California, where water travels hundreds of miles just to reach us, Pitzer has and continues to enact non-obligatory reductions in water usage in order to lessen its impact.
Warren Biggins, the Sustainability Manager at Pitzer, works to help the college in meeting its commitment to its core value of environmental sustainability. Biggins also works with students in joint sustainability initiatives, and has recently been overseeing on-campus efforts to reduce the college’s water consumption rates.
“Pitzer has always had a commitment to environmental responsibility, and the campus landscape has long been designed to be water efficient,” Biggins said.
In response to the drought this past year, the college has removed 0.7 acres of its 3.5 acres of turf, making for a 20 percent reduction in areas requiring water related maintenance. These areas include the turf in front of the McConnell apron, Chung field, and various others.
“We have a facilities staff that is really responsive to the drought,” Biggins said.
Headed by Larry Burik, the facilities team has committed to reducing irrigation to two days a week over the summer, whereas previously watering occurred up to six times a week. Additionally, the college has stopped running the fountain, and has installed waterless urinals and a new water and energy efficient dishwasher in the McConnell dining hall.
Along with taking physical actions around campus, Pitzer has also made efforts to educate its students and the general public about the water crisis we are facing, and its particular relevance due to our location.
“Awareness and behavior change are the two most important things,” Biggins said.
To help spread the word and initiate growing consciousness and changing behaviors around water usage, signage has been placed around campus (with more soon to come), and incoming students have been required to attend a sustainability orientation where they are exposed to and educated about the drought and other environmental concerns of our day.
Through these measures, Pitzer has been and will continue to be doing its part with regards to water footprint reduction. But here arises the common question: how much longer? How much longer until California is no longer in such an extreme drought state?
This winter’s predicted appearance of El Niño, a warming of ocean currents off the coast of Peru and Ecuador that brings about drastic weather patterns in North America, has been a topic of constant discussion and excitement ever since climate scientists first began validating its probability for late 2015 and early 2016.
Southern California is now looking at a 60 percent chance of above average rainfall for this winter, and according to NASA climatologist Bill Patzert, “There’s no longer a possibility that El Niño wimps out at this point. It’s too big to fail.”
However, climate scientists also warn us that even if such an event were to happen, it would not be an end-all-cure-all. Due to the the tough, hardened nature of our soil that has been forming a nearly impermeable crust over the earth for the past four drought-stricken years, large quantities of rainwater will not easily seep into the ground to refill our depleted groundwater levels. It’s going to take more than that.
No longer do we have the luxury of stepping back, appreciating how far we have come, and becoming complacent. Conservation will become California’s new normal, and as Biggins points out, with environmental trends continuing the way they’re headed, “this is something that were probably going to have to live with going forward.”