Local water experts discuss drought causes, solutions and water reduction methods in depth as part one of Bren Hall lecture series

UCSB Bren School professor and water policy expert Robert Wilkinson addressed California’s water resources and drought actions Tuesday night in a lecture titled “California’s Water Resources and Our Drought.”
The lecture is one in a three-part series called “Water (We Going to Do)?” and comes after the County of Santa Barbara declared a drought emergency on Jan. 21 due to 2013 having been the driest year in California’s history. The series is jointly hosted by UCSB and the Goleta Water District, which serves to educate the UCSB public and surrounding communities on critical water and drought issues in California. Presenters also included UCSB Recycling and Water Efficiency Manager Matthew O’Carroll as well as Kirsten McLaughlin, who is water supply and conservation manager at Goleta Water District.
According to Wilkinson, every major water source in California is overused and about half the natural flow is no longer present in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that provides most of California’s water, meaning the state’s residents will have to “figure out how to work with less.”
“I’m actually optimistic we can do that,” Wilkinson said. “But we’re going to have to rethink how to do things — technically, legally and economically.”
A major part of the water shortage problem, according to Wilkinson, is the low cost of water. He said Californians would be encouraged to use less water if there were higher rates that made them pay more attention to the amount of water they consume. Wilkinson also said measures such as more efficient fixtures, landscape designs to catch rainwater, low-flow toilets and washing machines, spray nozzles, as well as using more recycled water could help to mitigate high levels of water consumption.
“I know I’m not going to be popular for saying that,” Wilkinson said. “But, water rates can go up and your bill won’t go up if you’re able to improve the efficiency of use.”
O’Carroll said irrigation reduction, education outreach, using recycled water and partnering with local and regional agencies is necessary to promote water conservation and efficiency on a community wide level.
“We’ve made it a commitment here on campus to reduce potable water irrigation,” O’Carroll said. “We’ve actually cut irrigation [by] 50 percent for all our potable sources.”
The topic of water irrigation reduction is where education outreach becomes even more important and applicable, considering the stigma associated with seeing a “brown lawn,” O’Carroll said.
“By not irrigating your lawn, you’re trying to do your part, and you’re really trying to conserve water,” O’Carroll said. “We’re trying to target that and let people know what we’re doing. We’re not slacking off with our irrigation schedule, we’re staying on top of it.”
Behavior modification, conservation and efficiency are the keys to water conservation success at UCSB, according to O’Carroll.
“These are really essential to getting not only short-term but long-term water conservation efforts,” O’Carroll said. “Little behavior change and efficiency can really help you save water.”
McLaughlin said concentrating on water efficiency in all possible situations is vital in light of the current drought, particularly in regard to irrigation and landscaping.
“Whether it’s more efficient landscaping or better understanding how to program your irrigation systems to irrigate the right ways, for the right time of year, for the plants you have … we have more we can do, we have places we can save,” McLaughlin said.
O’Carroll said he hopes to promote a collaborative effort and educate not only one community — UCSB or Goleta — but that excessive water consumption is a problem requiring cooperation on a broader basis.
“Everybody’s responsible for water conservation and efficiency efforts,” O’Carroll said. “We’re in this together. We really need to work with our local water agencies. We need to work with our union members and really be accountable for our actions of water consumption.”


Photo by Kenneth Song / Daily Nexus

A version of this story appeared on page 1 of Wednesday, May 21, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.