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Santa Barbara Leads the Way in UC Water Sustainability



UC President Janet Napolitano announced the prospective goal of reducing the UC system’s water usage by 20 percent on Thursday, with plans of reaching this reduction goal by the year 2020.

Slated to be discussed at next week’s Board of Regents meeting, this newest policy comes as just one of multiple proposals designed to encourage environmentally sustainable practices within the University. According to the university’s recently released Annual Report on Sustainable Practices, additional environmental policy proposals include a 50 percent system-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the year 2025.

Though it was only just this previous week that the policy was publically announced, the process of reducing system-wide water usage has been in progress for some time now, according to UC Office of the President Spokesperson Brooke Converse.

“Some of the campuses have already achieved the goal,” Converse said.

According to the university’s sustainability report, UCSB has already complied with the requested reduction in water usage, and did so before any other UC location. Additionally, the report commends the sustainability practices currently employed at UCSB, stating that “Santa Barbara’s Water Action Plan provides a template that other campuses in the UC system and nationally can follow,” and estimates that “when fully implemented, [UCSB’s] plan will reduce water use by 40 percent by 2028.”

With a deadline set six years from now, each UC campus and medical center has unique obstacles which are being addressed in order to meet the reduction goal, most of which have resulted from infrastructural and environmental differences between the locations, Converse said. One challenge being addressed is improving the efficiency of campus plumbing, such as the replacement of old plumbing systems at UC Irvine, which is expected to reduce campus water consumption by millions of gallons per year. Converse also said that from a strictly environmental standpoint, differences in soil and geology also play a determining factor in resource use, as what may constitute an optimal level of irrigation for one campus may not necessarily be the same for another.

“Each campus and medical center is different and will face different issues in reaching the goal,” Converse said in an email. “The remaining campuses that are still working toward the goal have until 2020 to reach it.”

According to Converse, there has been no discussion of negative consequences for locations which do not meet the consumption reduction goal by the deadline of 2020. Currently there are eight UC campuses and medical centers ­— all except UCLA — that have already achieved a 20 percent reduction in their water consumption, a figured calculated through comparison to previous water usage averaged out over a three-year period.

Although Napolitano’s announcement last week has brought attention to the issue of environmental sustainability within the UC system, the idea and goal of reducing water consumption by 20 percent by 2020 was a goal originally proposed to the state legislature in February of 2008 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This action eventually resulted in the creation of The Water Conservation Act of 2009.

In the most recently revised version of the UC’s Policy of Sustainable Practices, the Water Conservation Act has been cited as the impetus for the UC’s goal of reducing water consumption. Under this law, water use averages and reductions are calculated on a per capita basis, and the result of this is that campuses with larger student populations — and larger infrastructure — may face more challenges in meeting the proposed goal.

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