Signs placed around campus to educate community members about UCSB’s efforts and accomplisments in water conservation.

Signs placed around campus to educate community members about UCSB’s efforts and accomplisments in water conservation.

Many students wonder: as one of the “Top 50 Green Schools” with a commitment to environmental sustainability and conservation, how is UCSB still able to maintain lush green lawns amidst the grueling California drought? The answer is the continued use of recycled water along with a proactive Water Action Plan to conserve water for human use. Since the switch to recycled water in the early ’90s, UCSB has saved about 19,500,000 gallons of potable, or drinking, water annually — a total of about half a billion gallons of water.

Recycled water, or reclaimed water, is wastewater-treated to meet quality requirements for landscaping, commercial water use and drinking. It includes water from shower and sinks as well as blackwater, or water from toilets, urinal and other feces-containing facilities. It is not to be confused with greywater, which is gently reused water not including blackwater. Using recycled water and greywater are key steps in water conservation to decrease the usage of valuable potable water needed for human sustenance. UCSB receives its recycled water from the Goleta Water District after the Goleta Sanitary District has processed it.

According to the Goleta Sanitary District website, “Recycled wastewater is produced by treating secondary effluent to the tertiary level. Secondary treated water is mixed with special chemicals that cause remaining particles to clump together. It is then filtered with carbon, and finally disinfected with chlorine to kill bacteria.”

The Water Action Plan, adopted in March 2013, is an ongoing plan that aims to encourage smart water usage and conservation around campus. This revolutionary blueprint encompasses proactive strategies to limit potable water usage through the usage of recycled water and irrigation conservation. UCSB does not have a drought action plan because the Water Action Plan has been a comprehensive guide to fixing the problem before it occurs.

“The Plan outlines over 20 future water conservation and efficiency efforts that relate to both infrastructure and management changes. Each recommendation is complete with a full water savings and financial analysis. Since the formal adoption of the Plan, UCSB has implemented or is currently pursuing many of the recommendations. Our efforts are evidenced in the fact that we have reduced our potable water consumption 21 percent this past year,” Matthew O’Carroll, Refuse, Recycling, and Water Efficiency Manager at UCSB and one of the authors of the UCSB Water Action Plan, said.

UCSB receives water from a tertiary-treated reclaimed water, which is not intended for human consumption from a separate piping network than the potable water system. Currently, more than 90 percent of landscaped areas are irrigated with reclaimed water, but there are efforts in place to further convert areas to recycled water irrigation put forth by members of a “change agent” committee overseeing the university’s sustainability group.

“The main goals of that committee overlap to some degree with the Water Action Plan and focus on: use of sustainable, drought tolerant native plants in all open space and non-main campus areas; on the core of campus a concerted effort has been made to plant perennials and low-maintenance plants, replacing annual blooming flowers that were replaced several times per year and required more water; unnecessary lawns are being replaced with shrubs or wood chips as alternative, drought tolerant vegetation,” Lisa Stratton, Director of Ecosystem Management at the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration, said.

Due to conscious water conservation, smart irrigation and sustainable landscaping efforts, UCSB has been able to stress less about the drought and focus more on improving water-saving strategies around campus; the university will continue to focus on water efficiency strategies in the upcoming years.

“The university also plans to use recycled water as make-up water for cooling towers and toilets. Projects to retrofit existing restroom fixtures with more water efficient fixtures will also look to take place,” O’Carroll said.