UCSB was recently recognized as a pioneer of water conservation by the Earth Day Network, an international organization that has been spearheading environmental campaigns — such efforts against climate change or movements to save endangered species like whales — since the first Earth Day in 1970.

For over 40 years, the Earth Day Network has been launching eco-campaigns alongside 22,000 partners in 192 nations, and late last month, the renowned organization featured UCSB on its website for the campus’s water conservation efforts. The UCSB Water Action Plan (WAP) was recognized in particular, and this is not the WAP’s first time in the spotlight. The program garnered national attention in April, when the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference chose UCSB as a Best Practice Award Winner for WAP’s efforts and activities.

Now considered part of official university policies, WAP is a comprehensive plan that details the current usage of water throughout campus and offers possible ways to reduce waste. The document includes a 15-year outline measuring the costs and benefits of upgrading facilities, thus illustrating both the feasibility and impact of any proposed changes. The program aims to eventually reduce water consumption at UCSB by 20 percent.

The plan started just last year, as a master’s thesis at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Former graduate students Matthew O’Carroll and Katie Cole, enrolled at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, decided to make the plan after hearing about a mandate requiring all 10 UC campuses to launch water conservation efforts by 2014. They worked alongside other faculty members and students in the department for a year and a half before creating WAP.

O’Carroll said the need for new water conservation strategies is an increasingly relevant issue due to the strains on water supplies in Southern California and along the state’s Central Coast.

“My personal and academic interests have always been around water conservation efforts,” O’Carroll said. “Especially in urban environments, given the current and future pressures on our available water supplies here on the Central Coast, I thought that creating a water-planning document for UCSB would be fitting.”

Upon graduating from the Master’s program at the Bren School, O’Carroll was hired by UCSB for a new position entitled Refuse, Recycling & Water Efficiency Manager in the department of Facilities Management.

In regards to his new position, O’Carroll credits the collective efforts of his team in creating WAP since the plan set the foundation for his new role at UCSB.

“At first, I was a little surprised,” O’Carroll said. “But now that I look back at all the hard work my teammates and [I] put into creating the Water Action Plan, and the support we had from the University, I am a little less surprised.”

Jewel Snavely, financial manager of WAP, calculated the costs each campus entity or department would have to pay with the implementation of WAP. But while the program carries certain costs, many UCSB organizations have expressed support, such as the UCSB Green Initiative Fund, which recently provided a $44,000 for the replacement of water fixtures in restrooms.

Snavely clarified the function of the WAP as a practical and comprehensive tool to implement water conservation policies.

“All we were doing was making a list of recommendations — the most feasible, most directly-impacting ones that would immediately show us benefits,” she said.


A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the Thursday, November 14, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.