The landscape outside Dr. Linda Ritterbush’s office window changed this semester, and she knows exactly why.
“This was grass only a few months ago,” said Ritterbush, professor of environmental science at California Lutheran University. Grass on the south side of the Ahmanson Science Center turned into a landscape designed to save water.
“They take out the grass and they put in wood chips, and they plant plants that are either natives or drought-tolerant,” Ritterbush said.
Drought-tolerant landscapes across Cal Lutheran are tangible evidence of the university’s efforts to conserve water during California’s recent dry spell. So are the low-flow and dual-flush toilets around campus.
Brian Barreto is the Southern California External Affairs Manager for California American Water, the company that supplies water to Cal Lutheran. He said water use is likely to change at the household level.
“Given the drought being in its fourth year, given the new mandates that the governor has proposed and that will be implemented in the very near future … Southern Californians’ lifestyles will be changing,” Barreto said.
The severity of the drought has motivated discussion of water-saving technologies.
Greywater systems, according to the Cal Lutheran’s sustainability website, capture water from washing machines, dishes and showers and use it for irrigation. The technology prevents the need to water landscapes with drinkable water.
“You could imagine that on a campus like this, with several dorms, those washing machines are probably used darn near around the clock sometimes, and there’d be quite a volume of water there,” Ritterbush said.
So far, however, the university does not have any greywater systems in place.
“It turns out that we don’t currently have any [greywater systems] on campus, but the Trinity dorm, which is huge and very new, apparently is built in such a way to make that possible,” Ritterbush said.
The Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant in Thousand Oaks receives and treats most of the city’s sewage. Chuck Rogers, superintendent of Hill Canyon said the plant turns wastewater into reclaim water and sells it to golf courses.
He compared human consumption of reclaim water to what happens to communities on a river system.
“Imagine you lived on the Mississippi River. It goes like this basically: intake for water, wastewater treatment plant, discharges back to the same stream. As you go down the river you’re drinking reclaim water all the time,” Rogers said.
Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System returns some reclaim water to the drinking water supply by injecting it into a large groundwater basin. However, this happens after the water undergoes a rigorous purification process involving reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light and ozone.
Roger said those technologies are not in use at Hill Canyon.
“Well, it’s very expensive. It uses a lot of energy,” Rogers said.
Dr. Samuel Thomas is co-chair of Cal Lutheran’s Sustainability Task Force and teaches Environmental Ethics. He encourages students to consider their effect on the environment, however small.
“What I would love to see, what I hope students walk away with, is a sense that the choices that they make do matter,” Thomas said.
Published May 6th, 2015