The California Drought poses a major threat to our environment. Overpopulation, production and consumption, and climate change have all been driving factors towards the decrease in water. California is the biggest agricultural producer for the United States. But while farming is one of the largest culprits of water use, many businesses have been sucking the land dry of its moisture—including college campuses. Since the University Redlands falls under this category, you may be asking: “what is our school doing to respond to the California drought?”
First off, you may be wondering where our water comes from. It all starts with the company Bear Valley Water. Normally, this water arrives from the dense snow packed mountains of Big Bear through a series of pools before reaching ground level. The drought, however, has changed things. Currently, there is no snow pack left on the mountains, so pool levels are lower than usual. Usually, when these pools are full, there is a river that runs through greek row. As of now, this river runs bare.
With people now realizing mother earth’s dehydration, measures are beginning to be taken. The University of Redlands is no exception. On campus, water has been cut within the past year by 35%. Most students are probably fascinated to hear this since they thought the University of Redlands had to use a certain amount of water each day to abide by their contract with Bear Valley Water. Director of Facilities Management Roger Cellini confirmed this rumor as nothing but false, firmly telling me, “there is no contract that tells us to use a certain amount of water each day.”
Water use legitimately seems like a prime concern for Facilities Management. Rick Quinbar, Associate Director of Central Utilities in Facilities Management told me, “We look at our bills constantly. If we see something wrong in our average water use, we try to correct the problem instantly.” Water use and economics go hand in hand. People in higher positions of management like Rick Quinbar care about the amount of water use because if water is overused, then it affects his paycheck.
At the beginning of last summer, each dorm or apartment owned by the University of Redlands was installed with low flow shower heads, low flow aerators, and most dorms have low flow toilets. All these contribute to the conscious effort to reduce water. There are many other projects in the works. One of the biggest projects is installing flush free urinals.
The flush-free urinal project has been met with much opposition. The University of Redlands is lacking modernization within their buildings. The location where urinals sit on the walls have lower drain lines then what the flush-free urinals require in order to function. If we install flush-free urinals then the school would therefore have to strip apart the walls to completely replace the piping system, redo the tile to match the urinals, expand bathrooms, and then install the flush-free urinals. Each urinal would cost about $300, which is not bad taken alone, but after factoring in all of the additional costs, something thought to be easily payable would now require an investment of thousands of dollars.
Many environmental projects need time. At a university where buildings are always being used no matter the month, time is the enemy. Construction companies do not have the work force to get certain things done before class is back in session. “The contractors often tell us a longer time then we can actually do,” said Rick Quinbar. Every year the Facilities Management is denied projects due to the amount of time needed to complete a project. “It is just a hurdle,” said Rick Quinbar. Does this completely eliminate the possibility of flush-free urinals in the future? No. But as of now, we do not have the time or money to complete big projects like these. To become a “green campus” we need to be patient because “It will eventually happen” said Rick Quinbar.
Another water-related issue in need of attention is nonnative grass and plants. “We live in Southern California and it is a little ridiculous that we have this much grass,” said Perrin Hess, a University of Redlands student working for Waste Management. It is, admittedly, unwise to have planted a Mediterranean landscape within a desert climate. The use of water gone to our landscape has been tremendous. In the years after the founding of the University of Redlands, management has become more aware of the nature of this non-drought tolerant landscape in that it clearly does not fit the climate of Redlands.
Within the past few years the conversion to non-potable water has virtually reached every watering system on campus. Non-potable water is simply water unsuitable for drinking. Other old watering systems have been replaced with drip technology. This has saved thousands of gallons of water each month. In particular, “One shrub bed’s drip watering system can save 200 gallons of water per week” said Roger Cellini. “Roger’s innovative thinking has helped change the game,” said a grounds worker.
Additionally, older landscapes are now being replaced to fit our climate. With the installation of drought tolerant plants and the cutting back of grass, water use has staggeringly dropped. “I could honestly say our water use this year has dropped 250,000 gallons a month,” said Jeff McClintock, Grounds and Waste Management Manager.
Certain efforts to reduce grass acreage have all been fairly recent. One recent measure involves reducing the acreage of grass on the quad. For instance, all trees on the quad now have mulch rings around them. This project has eliminated an entire acre of grass from the quad. Within this year, other projects are planned to reduce grass acreage. One of these projects includes the removal of 2 or more acres of grass from the side of East and West Colton Drive. Strategic projects like these all have meaningful contributions in the effort to shift the University of Redlands to a more sustainable campus.
Nothing insurmountable is hindering the University of Redlands from being more environmentally conscious. But, as Roger Cellini has said, “there is only a bucket of money that can go so far.” He is right. We can’t demand unlimited improvement with limited financial resources. In light of this, we must take action and act as a community, not as a partisan group divided with management. In fact, we are causing many problems which waste management’s time. “We get sidetracked with other tasks. We spend 40 hours a week picking up trash. If the students stopped polluting, I could have more of my workers working on more environmentally friendly projects,” said Jeff McClintock.
Big changes are happening within our climate. It is literally dying right in front of us. I don’t know how many more negative environmental events need to happen in order for society as a whole to recognize that this issue is real. This applies to both global and local scales. With regard to our campus, is there more that needs to be done? Of course there is. But we must keep in mind that we have a finite amount of resources with which to work. For this reason, working civilly with facilities to bring about a more sustainable campus is vitally important. At the same time, we must also make a conscious effort within ourselves to be more environmentally friendly, because at the end of the day individuals are the ones who create the initial foundation upon which change is built.
[Image courtesy of Joseph Serrano, Redlands Bulldog photographer]