Monday, October 26, 2015

Water: A Thirst for Change

By Spencer Dunlap, ‘16
In the Spring semester of 2015, I took an interdisciplinary Sustainability capstone class that had a great impact on me, and forever changed my role as a student at USD. I went from a passive spectator, to an active member of a campus community that emphasizes Changemaking. And what’s so great about being a member of this community, is that if you care enough about an issue, there are plenty of people who are willing to help you find a solution.
The issue that I really care about is water. California is in a state of drought emergency, and USD should be doing it all it can to conserve water. The institution has employed several different water-saving strategies, and is headed in the right direction, but USD students need to be better versed in the issues surrounding water in California. That’s why Sterling Fearing, Hailey Gordon, Angela Hessenius, and I formed What’s Your 20?: a student-led group that has been acclimating USD students to water-related issues since the summer of 2015. The Changemaker Challenge theme for 2015-2017 is “Water: Tap Into Your Ideas,” and What’s Your 20? is playing a critical role in promoting ideas for change from the grassroots level.
Who is directly impacted by the lack of water as a result of the California drought? USD students? Probably not. We do not think about the implications of taking a fifteen-minute shower, or washing a single pair of jeans in the washing machine, because we do not view water as a commodity. For students living on campus, water is essentially free because our parents pay for it. Therefore, our water usage is not cost-prohibitive.
When it comes to conserving water, mindfulness is key. First, students have to start thinking about water. If you care about conserving water, then the easiest thing you can do is start at home. How much water are you using when you do your laundry, or your dishes? Do you take five minute showers, or ten? Do you leave the faucet on while brushing your teeth? Do you drink water from the tap, or from plastic bottles? These are questions we want students to start thinking about. Once we become conscious of our daily water usage, the next step is for us to take action. That’s what Changemaking is all about.
When trying to promote change, role-modeling behavior is extremely important. If you want someone to follow in your footsteps, then you yourself have to exhibit socially responsible behavior. I think Gandhi said it best:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Below is a list of three simple things that I’ve done, and that I urge all USD students and faculty members to do, that have changed the way I think about water.
1.     Cut shower times by three minutes.
      ·      Did you know that by simply cutting your daily shower time by three minutes, you can save up to six gallons of water per day, and 2,190 gallons per year? So what if all USD students living on campus shortened their shower time by just three minutes this school year? We would save over two and a half million gallons of water! That’s about the same amount of water it takes to fill up four Olympic-sized swimming pools.
o   Here’s the math: 5,741 undergraduate students x 40% live on campus = 2,296 students living on campus x 6 gallons per day x 6 months = 2,514,120 gallons per school year à equates to about 4 (3.8) Olympic-sized swimming pools (660,430 gallons of water per Olympic-sized swimming pool).

2.     No more plastic bottles.
      ·      Did you know it takes more water to produce the average sixteen-ounce plastic bottle than the amount of water that is actually in the bottle? What is more, plastic bottles can pose a huge threat to the environment if they are not recycled properly. So why do we continue to buy plastic bottles of water instead of simply bringing a reusable bottle from home? Here is a list of the locations of different water filling stations around campus:

3.     Eat less meat (or none at all).
      ·      Did you know that it takes nearly 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef? Cutting back on your overall meat consumption is an easy way to also reduce your water consumption. I would suggest simply picking a day of the week to skip out on meat entirely (Meatless Mondays maybe?).
What’s Your 20?, in collaboration with the Changemaker Hub and the Office of Sustainability, has done a stellar job so far this semester with education and outreach about water-related issues. In September, USD played host to the Water Matters Panel, which brought experts on water usage and the drought together for a conversation about various water-related issues.  One comment from the panel that really resonated with me, was that we (San Diegans) cannot conserve ourselves out of a drought: we need innovation.
Yes, we do need innovation, and what better place to find innovation than on a college campus? Sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary, and requires like-minded people to come together to solve issues related to the surrounding environment, i.e., the USD campus. That is why What’s Your 20? is working with several students and faculty members to install rain barrels at various locations around campus. This idea is especially relevant because we are supposed to receive an abnormal amount of rainfall this year due to El Niño.
Thinking long-term, we want to eventually install rain barrels and a cistern near the Science building. But for this year, hopefully as soon as possible, we want to install multiple rain barrels outside of Missions Crossroads, so that the Gardening Club can use the stored water for the community garden. We plan to use these rain barrels by Missions Crossroads as a proof of concept, that we could later apply to other buildings around campus.

One thousand square feet of roof surface can capture about six hundred gallons of water for every one inch of rainfall received. So if we funnel rainwater into rain barrels around Missions Crossroads, which has about four thousand square feet of roof surface, we could capture up to twenty-four hundred gallons of water every time it rains an inch. 

Our rain barrel project has many Changemaking implications. Once the barrels have been installed, we could have Engineering students develop a monitoring device that tracks the amount of water inside the barrels. We could also have Art students paint the barrels and add slogans like "What's Your 20?" "U Are Here" and "Be Blue Go Green.” Furthermore, we could bring students from the Sustainability LLC to the garden to teach them about water catchment, gardening, and composting. Sustainability and Changemaking both rely on interdisciplinary collaboration, and I believe this project would bring students from many different backgrounds together to create positive change at USD.