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Water Use Reductions Call For Change At USC

Kevin Cheberenchick |
April 9, 2015 | 8:48 p.m. PDT



On Apr. 1, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water usage due to a severe drought that could last decades. This water crisis is especially terrible because snow in the Sierra Nevada, which serves as a water reserve that feeds rivers and streams, is absent for the first time in at least 75 years. This year, reservoirs are nearly half-empty and are not expected to gain much more water.

Water reduction policies will focus on the irrigation of outdoor landscapes, which are big water users - especially places like golf courses and college campuses. The reduction is bad news for the University of Southern California (USC), which has had shoddy environmental efforts compared to the other high-ranked schools in the state. The institution typically acts to pacify complaints about its lacksadaisical environmental initiatives, rather than improve its environmental record to one befitting a prestigious university.

READ MORE: California Receives First Mandatory Water Restrictions

In 2011, the Sustainable Endowments Institute gave USC a "C" grade in green building, a "C" in endowment transparency and an "F" in shareholder engagement regarding environmental affairs. Poor endowment transparency and shareholder engagement are expected given that as recently as 2013, USC has ignored the requests of students to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The severity of this drought is not anything new, which only makes it worse when people visit the campus and notice the disregard for the importance of good water practices. Walking on USC’s campus, one can see employees watering the sidewalk to get the dirt off of the path and sprinklers watering the grass. Now, due to the mandatory water reduction, this practice and any other non-drip irrigation system will be banned. Drip irrigation allows water to seep slowly into the roots of plants through a network of tubes and valves at the base of a plant, greatly reducing the loss of water to evaporation.

USC's poor track record with water management is indicative of a larger neglect of environmental policy. USC could easily help the environment by decreasing the prevalence of plastic bags at the bookstore and Seeds Marketplace on campus. Moreover, USC is in the heart of sunny Los Angeles, but has zero solar panels. USC may cite costs as reasons not to support stronger environmental policies, but even public schools have enacted strong policies that align with Governor Brown's goals.

UCLA has a strong action plan related to sustainability, including zero waste, a bicycle plan, a climate action plan, a water action plan, university policy on sustainable practices and climate neutrality 2025 initiative. It also plans to achieve 20 percent sustainable food on campus by 2020. UC Santa Cruz plans to be carbon neutral by 2025. Chico State has four buildings with LEED certification. Santa Clara University claims nearly 800 courses with a sustainability component. Stanford composts, uses solar power and wind power, practices water conservation and promotes energy conservation. In June 2014, President Obama praised UC Irvine for their achievements concerning climate change, stating that Irvine was “ahead of the curve.” UCSB’s greening of Bren Hall encouraged the University of California system to adopt a green building policy. Bren Hall received the first LEED Platinum certification for a laboratory building in the United States. Lastly, UC Berkeley has a certified organic kitchen.

When contacted by Neon Tommy for a comment on Brown’s announcement, USC gave no response. USC has not yet released a plan of action for how the university intends to abide by the new regulations. USC freshman Ricky Hvisch states, “I am currently fairly unaware of our environmental policies, and I think this speaks to our environmental goals. If a school is actively trying to go green, there is usually a swelling pride in it. However, I have never heard of any program at USC, which leads me to believe anything we have is fairly inefficient or unhelpful.”

Hvisch believes that the university will take environmental policies more seriously after the governor’s statements, however his statements show the lack of existing environmental action at USC. Unlike at other universities where environmental efforts are obvious, one is not likely to notice any pro-environment policies at USC.

For the future Trojan Family, hopefully, the current administration will take environmental issues seriously. The administration needs to increase its transparency, better communicate with students and develop solid, progressive environmental plans like those found at other universities. The drought will require an entire cultural change because constantly running fountains and replacing grass every few weeks is not sustainable. Governor Brown’s statements should serve as a wake-up call.

Contact Contributor Kevin Cheberenchick here; or follow him on Twitter.



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