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Water Conservation — Campus in Action

Five Questions With Willem van der Pol

April 10, 2014

aerial photo of students walking along a concrete pathway, beside them is a planted area.

Those walking from Cal State Fullerton's Humanities-Social Sciences Building to the Eastside Parking Structure can admire the landscaping along the walkway for both its aesthetics and utility. The bioswale is designed to catch runoff water, allowing it to percolate into the soil, instead of flow into a storm drain.

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The evidence can be seen just by looking to the local mountains, where snow is thin or nonexistent, and in photos of state reservoirs, where the water line is extremely low.

California is suffering a drought. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill providing $687.4 million to support drought relief. State legislators urged Californians to conserve water, making the most out of every drop.

Even before the drought, Cal State Fullerton has been doing its part. Two examples: last summer's installation of drought-resistant, more sustainable and lower-maintenance plants around the campus and construction of the third phase of student housing, which earned Platinum LEED certification for its sustainable building materials, design and landscaping.

Willem van der Pol, director of facilities operations, is among campus leaders seeking to further sustainability measures to reduce the University's carbon footprint.

Q: The latest student housing project was developed with water conservation in mind, including drought-resistant plants, specialized landscaping and bioswales. What are bioswales, how do they work and are they being used in other areas of campus?

The bioswale is designed to catch runoff water and allow it to percolate into the soil instead of it going into the storm drain system and out to the ocean. We have a few on campus: on the west side of the Dumbo Downs parking lot; next to the walkway from Humanities to the Eastside Parking Structure; south of the Eastside Parking Structure in Folino Drive; north of the Clayes Performing Arts Center near Titan Walk; and one south of the Education-Classroom Building.

Q: What other measures are we taking on campus to save water?

We are retrofitting our older buildings with low-flow fixtures, wherever possible, in restrooms to bring them into line with our new facilities, which were built with low-flow fixtures. In addition, we are moving to drip irrigation, and we are also introducing more drought-tolerant vegetation.

Q: What does the future hold in the way of water efficient usage?

There is a drive from the governor to reduce water usage by 20 percent by 2020. Since two-thirds of our usage is in the landscape, that is where you'll see most of the change. More drought-tolerant landscaping, and the irrigation systems will become more sophisticated. Also, we'll be developing more infrastructure to keep rain water on campus. All fixtures will eventually become low-flow, and creating more awareness will be important, as well.

Q: What about drinking water?

We will need to wean off the plastic water bottle and 'take back the tap.' Besides the insidious profits made with drinking water, which is a common good, and the disastrous effects of all the plastic on the environment, the energy related to getting the bottle to the consumer is high and the water spillage significant. So we are starting with replacing the drinking fountains around the campus with a combination of fountains and bottle-filling stations.

Q: What about grey water?

It would be great if we would have access to grey water (recycled water used for irrigation) but the problem is that it is not available in this area. We will need to look at the long term and work with the city and the county to come up with affordable solutions. In the meantime, we should try to trap as much rain water as possible on campus so at least part of our landscape can maintain itself. We are working on plans for that.

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