California Drought and Why Schools Should Conserve WaterTips for Conserving Water in 2014
March 7th, 2014
I am a student at Albany High School located in Albany, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. We are experiencing one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. The Northern Sierra precipitation accumulation is only 30% of what it normally receives during the water year. The drought is so severe that Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. The state of emergency urges Californians to reduce water usage by 20%, including schools. It is not mandatory, but if we remain at low levels of precipitation it may become so. State agencies are being forced to lower water usage too. Because the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is the main source of water for the entire state of California, every county is affected. There are many hypotheses about the causes of the drought: a high pressure area above the Pacific Ocean that blocks storms; human-induced climate change; natural variation; or some of all these reasons. Reservoirs and rivers are the lowest they have been in more than 100 years.
Although we cannot make it rain, we can work to conserve water in our schools, homes, and businesses, and be more water efficient. So how does the drought affect schools? According to the Center for Environmental Education, the average school in the U.S. uses 22,284 gallons of water per day, while the average family of four uses approximately 400 gallons of water per day. Although we are much more efficient at conserving water than we were 20 years ago, this is a very large amount of water. In homes, most of the water used is for outdoor watering, toilets, showers, washing machines, and drinking water. In schools, water is primarily used for toilets, outdoor watering, and water fountains. As with many resource issues, there is definitely room for conservation.
The best way to reduce water usage in schools and homes is by adding an efficient watering system in your garden, because outdoor watering represents roughly 30% to 60% (EPA) of all residential water use. According to Amherst University, by implementing drip irrigation, you can decrease your outdoor water up to 80%! This means you can save between 24-48% of your total water consumption. In an effort to reduce outdoor watering costs, most high schools are trading a conventional grass athletic field for an artificial turf field. Once the artificial turf is installed, no water is necessary to maintain the field, whereas grass fields must be watered regularly. However, there are other concerns about artificial turf, including off-gassing of VOCs, toxic lead in the turf, other heavy metals, and high temperatures. There are newer turf-types that are more environmentally-friendly. You can read more about artificial turf concerns here.
Toilets use up to 27% of a home’s annual water consumption. Some toilets use up to 7 gallons of water per flush while newer toilets use roughly 75% less water. If the change from a 7 gallon per flush toilet is made to a 1.6 gallon per flush toilet, it can save up to 11,096 gallons of water per year, as calculated by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. It is also recommended that flushable urinals be replaced by waterless urinals. My school - Albany High School - uses waterless urinals. They are easier to maintain and keep clean. A picture of the urinals in my school is at the bottom of the page. In my opinion, these work just fine and there's no noticeable difference to the user and they save so much water!
In order to decrease the amount of water being used by water faucets, an aerator can be added that adds air to the water. These also exist for showers. By adding an aerator, the Regional Water Providers Consortium says you can save 40% of that faucet’s water use. Leaks are also a very common occurrence. Even though it seems like such a small thing, the EPA states that leaks can waste up to 10,000 gallons of water annually! The first step to fixing a leak is to identify if you have a leak and if so where it is coming from. There are a variety of ways to find a leak. Many websites contain step-by-step directions for leak detection. You can also use the links to calculators that can estimate how many gallons of water are wasted by leaks at your school.
The drought is a good opportunity to engage your students in learning about water. Students can learn their “watershed address” and also estimate their own “water footprint" so they can better understand where there water really comes from, beyond just coming out of the tap. The River of Words poetry contest has lessons plans about “what is a watershed.” A water footprint is similar to a carbon footprint. A water footprint determines how much fresh water you use directly and indirectly and helps you find how you can reduce your water usage. A great water footprint calculator on National Geographic can help you estimate your personal water footprint. Once you have determined your water footprint, you can start taking action to reduce it right away! The Water Education Foundation also has resources and lesson plans, including helping people understand how much water is used to produce a hamburger versus a vegetarian meal (hint: growing beef is very water intensive).
Our Green Schools Initiative website has resources for teaching about water, including a page on how to do a water audit with students that can identify leaks and other water-saving actions you can take at school. Simple actions include: identifying leaks that need fixing, making signs to remind people to turn off the water, and adding aerators to faucets and showers. More in-depth actions include: switching to waterless urinals and low-flush toilets, installing automatic faucets, and installing drip irrigation, irrigation timers, and drought-tolerant landscaping. Teaching children about water can be tricky for many people. The lesson must be simple enough for them to understand, yet serious enough for them to fully comprehend the severity of our situation. The best way to teach your children about water conservation is leading by example. Make sure you always use smart conservation methods while children are around and they will pick up good habits. Another way to teach children about water is by introducing fun activities found on the EPA’s website. Project WET is a great website to introduce to your children because of all the great activities it offers. There are many interactive water conservation games that will teach the kids important values while enjoying themselves.
Water is life! So, please save water at school so there is enough to go around for people, fish, plants, and animals.