Events & Media

Bren Group Project Generates First Long-Term Water Plan for UCSB

UCSB has approved the UC system's first "Water Action Plan,"a blueprint for long-term campus water use and conservation created as a 2013 Bren School Group Project.

Inspired by a UC Office of the President (UCOP) mandate that all ten UC campuses create water conservation plans by 2014, Bren master's students Matthew O'Carroll and Katie Cole proposed the effort a year ago during the annual call for proposals for Bren School Group Projects. The capstone Group Projects, which involve teams of three to six students working collaboratively for nine months to solve an environmental problem for a real client, serve as the master's thesis for Bren students and are a signature of the school's curriculum.

Water Action Plan team members (from left) Katie Cole, Matthew O'Carroll, Briana Seapy, Jewel Snavely, Rebecca Dorsey, and Dane Johnson during their Group Project defense.

Once O'Carroll and Cole's project was approved, Rebecca Dorsey, Dane Johnson, Briana Seapy, and Jewel Snavely became the other members of the group. The team is also now working with UCOP and to share and exchange ideas and findings with the other schools as they work on their proposals.

"UCSB's Water Action Plan is a great step forward for conserving what is perhaps our most definitive resource in Southern California — water," said Bruce Tiffney, dean of the College of Creative Studies and co-chair of the Chancellor's Sustainability Committee. "This far-sighted document details current usage and possible modes of usage reduction. It also provides estimates of economic costs and benefits; but in fact, these are almost inconsequential, as the question in water conservation is not 'if,' nor even 'when,' but rather 'now.' This plan will help UCSB and, by example, other academic institutions, move on this important resource now."

"The Bren students have done a fantastic job developing this plan, which will serve as a template for other UC campuses to develop Water Action Plans of their own," said Ron Cortez, associate vice chancellor for administrative services and co-chair of the Chancellor's Sustainability Committee. "This speaks to the progressive nature of UCSB, not only in its ability to surpass California's 20-percent water-use reduction mandate nine years ahead of schedule, but also in our ability to assist others as they strategize for future reductions, conservation, and education of their campus communities. UCSB has shown great leadership with this plan, and we are excited about the finished product."

Last summer, the group members collected a mass of data from sites across UCSB, including the "wet well," where wastewater is collected, and the central pumping station, which regulates water pressure campus-wide. The restroom audit took the team into every bathroom on campus to assess flush volumes and water flow in toilets, urinals, and faucet fixtures. They literally removed pipes and rerouted dozens of toilets into a bucket to measure gallons per flush.

Using their findings and factoring in expected water rate increases and campus growth as reflected in UCSB's Long Range Development Plan, the group projected out through 2028. Besides revealing current usage, their final document — a long-term road map for water conservation — makes myriad recommendations for immediate and future savings.

Among the must-do's on the latter list, the students said, are rest room retrofits — a relatively simple, low-cost remedy that could pay for itself in water savings in a year — to bring all toilets, faucets, and aerators up to public standards for efficiency. Also, optimizing operations across UCSB's multiple cooling towers, which use chilled water to control temperature in rooms and buildings across campus, could achieve millions of gallons in water savings annually. Expanding the use of weather-based irrigation control could mitigate the estimated 3 million gallons of overwatering that occurs each year under the current system of timers and manual controls.

In addition to infrastructure improvements, the plan includes administrative recommendations, such as the adoption of real-time metering and the creation of a new water-manager staff position. It also features outreach and education components, from implementing a campus-wide water conservation education program, to incorporating conservation into academic curricula.

"We laid out all the recommendations we felt were economically feasible, either now or in the future," O'Carroll said. "Once we leave, we don't know what the university will be faced with in terms of growth or whatever else may happen, but we accounted for everything that is known right now."

"This is a living document," Cole added. "We want it to be something the campus continues to come back to, and update, as technology advances and circumstances change. We see it as a road map. Some things here may not be feasible now, but we've laid out the conditions for which they would be feasible. We don't want this to collect dust. We want it to stay relevant."

Considering that UCSB by 2011 had already bested a UCOP mandate to reduce potable water use by 20 percent by 2020, it is perhaps not surprising that the campus — a longtime leader in higher-education sustainability circles — is on a fast track to further reductions. If it continues its efforts apace and implements the recommendations of the Water Action Plan, the report states, UCSB "should be able to reduce total potable water use by an additional 20 percent by 2028."