Conserve water (and energy) at your school
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At first, I wasn’t sold on the need to conserve water. It falls from the sky, for Pete’s sake, but then it was pointed out to me that it takes electricity to treat the water that flows through our pipes, and it takes a lot of electricity to pump all of that water to the treatment plant and back to our faucets or onto our lawns. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the California State Water Project is the largest single user of electricity in California, accounting for over 2% of all power used in the state, and in southern California, power used to deliver water to residential customers is equal to roughly one-third of the total energy used in residences in that area.
In some parts of the country, the water itself is scarce. As the population grows, the water supply doesn’t, and many parts of the country have experienced extreme droughts in recent years. Also, as the demand for treated water grows, your community may need to build additional treatment facilities. This is why many utilities are opting to step up public education programs in an effort to reduce usage and avoid the huge expense of new treatment plants.
Here are some ways you can educate kids about water use both at school and at home and make a big impact.
Education about water use at home
- Contact your local water utility and see if they have speakers, programs, or educational resources to share. Our school receives a visit every year from Austin Energy's Dowser Dan, who educates kids about water conservation.
- Teach kids how to reduce water use at home – limit showers to three minutes; turn water off when brushing teeth; use water responsibly in the yard and garden.
Inside your school
- Perform a school water audit, looking for leaky faucets, water fountains, and toilets. Don’t forget to check outdoor connections. The kids can help with this.
- Install bathroom faucets that turn off automatically.
- If that’s not economically feasible, remind kids to turn off the water while soaping up their hands, or at least to shut off the water when they’re done. Kids can make signs or stickers to place on mirrors above sinks.
- Install aerators on faucets. They’re inexpensive, and they allow delivery of the same water pressure with less water usage.
- Students can measure the amount of water dripping from a faucet for a set period of time, then calculate how much water is wasted over a day, week, month, or year. Look up water rates in your community and put a price on what this costs your school.
- When replacing toilets, use low-flow toilets. If that’s not feasible, and you have toilet tanks, place a milk or soda bottle filled with water and capped in the tank to displace water and reduce the amount used per flush. Kids can help with this, too.
School gardens and lawns
- If your school has automatic sprinklers, find out when they run and check to see if there are soggy areas, which might indicate leaks.
- Ask about the landscape watering schedule and suggest cutting back to twice per week. Sprinklers should be set to come on in the early morning to minimize evaporation. Less frequent, deep watering is preferable to more frequent, shorter periods. This encourages plants and trees to develop deep roots.
- If you’re planning to install new sprinklers for gardens, use drip irrigation instead of sprayers. This type of system delivers water only to where it is needed and results in less runoff than spray systems.
- Look for soggy areas in general, which can indicate breaks in water lines.
- Investigate rainwater collection for use watering school gardens and landscaping. Small barrels, while they only save 50 gallons or so, start kids thinking about using rainwater. A larger system might be achievable with donations or a grant.
- When installing or replacing landscaping, select native plants. After a couple of weeks of watering to get them established, these can survive with minimal or no additional watering. Kids can learn about native plants and help choose which varieties to place near their classrooms.
- Replace thirsty lawns with bark mulch, gravel, or native ground covers. Some communities offer free mulch, made from collected yard trimmings.
- Mulch gardens to keep soil moist.
- Run air conditioning condensate lines to landscaping areas, rather than to drains, to recapture that water. You may be surprised at how much water is generated by air conditioning. Avoid using condensate irrigation on vegetable gardens, however.
Pools, ponds, and fountains
- To limit evaporation, only run decorative fountains during the school day.
- To avoid overflow and wasted water, keep an eye on the water level when refilling ponds, fountains, and pools.
- If your school has a swimming pool, use a cover to reduce evaporation at night, keep the water level low to reduce water loss through splashing, and learn other ways to conserve water at www.poolandpatio.about.com/od/maintainingyourpool/tp/DroughtPoolTips.htm .
Sustainable choices made at your school teach kids to consider the environment at home and in other areas of their lives. Water conservation is one area where you can help make a difference.