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Campus Drought Response Is Evolving

Lawns Will Be Replaced, Other Ideas Sought to Save Water
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Cal State Fullerton will be going brown — briefly — in response to the state’s current drought conditions.

The result is a whole lot less grass but a lot more drought-resistant groundcover. The action is a result of a mandatory water order announced April 1 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“As a state entity, we have been asked to reduce the amount of water used on campus by 25 percent by Feb. 28, 2016,” said Willem van der Pol, interim assistant vice president for facilities operations and management. “The city of Fullerton has been directed to reduce 28 percent — which means roughly 50 million gallons for CSUF.”

Total water usage for 2013 was 181 million gallons of water. In addition to landscaping, 10 percent of water was used in air conditioning and 25 percent for people — drinking fountains and restroom faucets, among others. Thirty percent of the campus total is also auxiliary water usage: Associated Students, Arboretum, Housing, Parking and Auxiliary Services Corp.

“Because 65 percent of our water does go into landscaping, our main effort will be in changing the landscaping that we currently have,” said van der Pol. The idea of switching to plants that can be maintained with less water is not new, but with the statewide mandate, the plan is being sped up as much as possible within the allocated budget.

Since 2013, Facilities Operations has gradually been replacing planters to more drought-resistant and lower-maintenance plants. When possible, the campus also is introducing bioswales, a system that catch runoff water and allow it to percolate into the soil instead of storm drains and out to the ocean. (See story: Water Conservation — Campus in Action)

Now that action will be expanded to areas where there is lawn, said van der Pol. Initial plans call for maintaining certain areas, such as playing fields like Goodwin and Anderson, the track and the stadium, because of their use for athletic events, classes and commencement. Other lawns across campus will be replaced with xeriscape, or dry landscaping, contributing a 30 percent reduction in water.

The campus is also looking for other ways to save water. Installation of low-flow aerators on sinks and other low-flow fixtures is ongoing and expected to contribute a three percent reduction in water use, van der Pol noted. Both the full replacement of restroom fixtures in all campus buildings and replacing turf with xeriscape is expected to cost the University $7 million, he explained.

The campus is moving forward to conduct an audit and install metering for irrigation across campus. In addition, “we’ll be developing more infrastructure to keep rainwater on campus, such as the installation of cisterns.

“Following commencement, we’d like to form a committee to discuss issues and opportunities, then organize a charrette involving all members of the campus community in a discussion about the situation.

“We see this as an opportunity to make the campus a living lab,” he added. “The changeover is going to be a long process. It’s a great opportunity to not only save water but also for learning, to create change.”