Is Brown Really the New Green?

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California is currently facing its worst drought in known history. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the period between 2011 and 2014 is the driest period in California since the beginning of recordkeeping in 1895. Although droughts are a normal and recurring feature of California climate, 2014 was also a record year for high temperatures. According to an article published by the Wall Street Journal this week, California normally has about 4,000 wildfires a year. This year, California has had 6,000 wildfires so far. As the urgency of the drought in California only seems to be escalating, the Foghorn staff has turned its attention to how USF can and should address issues surrounding water conservation.

Before making a stance on the issue, we consulted with Richard Hsu, USF’s current Sustainability Coordinator, to understand what is already being done on campus to address the drought. Hsu states, “The University has stopped watering peripheral lawns on campus and reduced total irrigation water use within the last year by 25%, which is equivalent to 3.1 million gallons of water.” USF has also removed the grass from Benedetti Diamond and replaced it with artificial turf, which requires far less water. A new dishwasher was also installed in the Market Cafe kitchen this last summer that is estimated to save 700,000 gallons a year. Hsu says there are plans in place to retrofit the swimming pool in Koret in order to save 1.5 million gallons a year.

The staff has inquired about why certain parts of our campus appear to be so lush and green, despite the “Brown is the New Green” signs placed around campus. Hsu said, “Although landscaping is a very visible component of water use on campus, it accounted for only 17 percent of overall campus water use last year.” We understand that 17 percent may not be a very large percentage of water usage, and that having a well landscaped and green campus is important for attracting prospective students and donors. Professor John Lendvay of the Environmental Science Department suggests that we use native California plants around campus in order to create a pleasurable campus aesthetic while also addressing the drought. However, we feel that the drought may be extreme enough that we should stop watering plants and landscaping features completely. The staff feels it would speak volumes about how serious we are about water conservation if USF stopped watering their plants completely.

A popular piece of advice for conserving water is reducing our own water usage individually. Hsu suggests, “If all our students who live in university housing reduced their shower time by just five minutes, we could save another 6 million gallons of water each year, as well as the energy it takes to heat the water. Turning off the tap while brushing your teeth, shaving, or soaping your hands would all reduce your water intake.” In fact, USF President the Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. stated at the USF Town Hall last year that it is the residence halls that use the most water on campus. We definitely believe that reducing shower times and individual water use is a great way to cut back on water consumption. We do believe that individual behavior is what will lead to more efficient water use and better conservation. However, we think it is difficult to enforce individual behavior and think more should be done to deal with this crisis. Something that can influence individual behavior is access to information about the severity of the drought. We have noticed the “Conserve Water” stickers in the bathroom mirrors, but general awareness about the severity of the drought may not be as high as it should be. We feel that the state of California and campus facilities are very well informed about the drought, but we feel more could be done in order to maximize efficiency about regarding drought resistance.

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