School District Working to Meet Water Reduction Goal

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 04, 2008 - 09:18:00 AM

The Berkeley Unified School District has not yet met the 9 percent water reduction goal set by the East Bay Municipal Utilities District in May but is working with the agency to install water-saving devices in the city’s 16 public schools, district officials said. 

The East Bay Municipal Utility District’s Board of Directors issued emergency restrictions on water use more than three months ago and adopted a drought management plan to reduce water use by 15 percent to combat the Sierra Nevada’s languishing reservoirs. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett said Berkeley Unified had started water audits even before EBMUD asked for mandatory reductions. 

“We go out to each school and do a water inventory,” he said. “We especially look at our water sprinklers and retrofitting. Conserving water is certainly a big concern, along with a lot of other concerns. We are bracing for water reductions and are hoping the audits will give us some answers.” 

Water audits help institutions get a grasp on their water consumption and whether everything is functioning properly without wasting water, the district’s Director of Facilities Lew Jones said, adding that it was too early to provide good data from the audits. 

“We will be sending out customer service representatives to work with the schools,” East Bay MUD spokesperson Brian McCrea said. “They will carry out surveys for any other leaks and water waste and give advice about landscaping and how they can cut back water. Sometimes, if we notice a sudden spike in water usage in certain institutions, we will get in touch with them and follow up. We also have an arrangement in place for schools in which they can claim that they are being unfairly burdened and can choose to do self audits.” 

McCrea said EBMUD, which provides water to over 1.2 million customers in the eastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, allocated water to school districts based on their water usage for the past three years. 

A Public Records Act request to East Bay MUD revealed that the 18 school districts in Alameda County had consumed 23,214,180 more gallons of water last year compared to 2005. 

In 2005, water consumption of the school districts in Alameda County was 428,491,052 gallons, which rose slightly in 2006 and then shot up to 451,705,232 gallons in 2007. 

EBMUD officials said the agency did not track water usage by schools during normal business hours. 

“We have a subcategory within our commercial classification category where we include schools and libraries,” said EBMUD spokesperson Jeff Becera. “If we need to, we can look at their history and their accounts.” 

The Planet has yet to receive any information from the EBMUD Office of the Secretary in response to a Public Records Act request made more than a month ago to obtain records of Berkeley Unified’s water usage and that of its specific school sites for the past three years. 

Jones said Berkeley Unified’s water usage has been fairly consistent for the last three years. 

“Overall the pattern is consistent, with some schools using a little more and some using a little less,” he said “There are always variances in the summer, depending on which schools host summer school, city programs, YMCA programs and the Extended Day Care programs.” 

He added that the district had not calculated how much water East Bay MUD had allocated it over the past three years. 

The Berkeley Unified School District did not respond to the Planet’s request for the district’s water bills—which, beginning in August, will include the allocation—for the past three years. 

EBMUD board member Andy Katz said schools should aim to reduce indoor water use by 9 percent and outdoor watering by 30 percent, the amount required of irrigation customers. 

“EBMUD would consider limited exceptions on a case-by-case basis, but schools would have to show why conservation is not possible,” he said. 

“Our schools can conserve a significant amount of water and meet water conservation goals by watering no more than every other day or less, reducing watering time and watering only in the evening.” 

Berkeley Unified is currently working with grounds staff and school sites to educate them about water conservation, Jones said. 

The district saw a record rise in kindergarten enrollment in the new school year, which prompted district officials to add four new classrooms. 

“Our employees have always been instructed to use water efficiently, and will continue to avoid waste, understanding that the fields and other athletic spaces are a part of our students’ overall educational experience and need to be maintained,” district spokesperson Mark Coplan said. “We use drought-tolerant plants in our landscaping wherever possible, and our garden programs have always promoted environmental values through drip irrigation and other efficient methods.” 

Berkeley Unified has 10 permanent groundskeepers and four temporary ones during summer, Jones said. 

Water uses prohibited during drought emergency include watering lawns, gardens, or landscaping in a manner that causes excessive flooding and using East Bay MUD potable water for construction or soil compaction and dust control if feasible alternative sources exist. 

All water for construction will required a permit issued by East Bay MUD. 

“The irrigation technician is making adjustments per East Bay MUD suggestions,” Jones said. “We have also tested a Water Smart irrigation controller at the Berkeley Adult School and that works well. We will begin phasing in Smart Irrigation Controllers at other sites.” 

Smart Irrigation Controllers, EBMUD officials said, are tied to weather stations to make adjustments to irrigation without user intervention. 

Berkeley Unified is also installing the newest level of low-flow aerators on any faucet or fixture that is currently without it. 

“Construction projects routinely install water-saving devices, and sidewalks get addressed in the irrigation part of the audit,” Jones said. “Water usage is often required at construction sites to reduce dust. We cannot require reductions in water use without increasing dust.”