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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Reactive Measures To Drought Yet To Make An Impact At USC

USC needs to catch up in cutting water consumption.

As the California drought enters its fifth year, the University of Southern California has taken a number of measures to curb water consumption. But staff and students haven't noticed any differences, especially when it comes to watering plants on campus.

Despite the seemingly stagnant state of affairs, change is about to happen. The Environmental Student Assembly (ESA) on campus has been working closely with the Office of Sustainability on a number of initiatives.

“We submitted a proposal to several different administrators to increase the presence of native plants on campus. There are a couple of spots where there are plants or beds of plants that are less water intensive,” said Ahlia Bethea, Executive Director at ESA.

The assembly has a number of programs that will be rolled out in the near future. Most of them are still in the planning stages, so they will only be announced in due course.

In the meantime, the key to curbing water consumption is raising awareness, and that is something over which the ESA places great emphasis.

Despite the drought, there has been no change in the amount of greenery on USC campus
Despite the drought, there has been no change in the amount of greenery on USC campus

“We held an event called “What are you doing about the drought?“ earlier this semester, where we invited people to take a water pledge, and actually gave them a variety of different ways that they could reduce their water footprint,” Bethea said.

Water education does not stop with reducing consumption. It also serves as a means to dispel myths about water wastage.

“The fountains only account for two percent of our water usage. The most water intensive parts of the campus are really our residents’ halls,” Bethea explained. “One thing that the university is definitely moving to do is create more signage to make students aware that the water being used in the fountains is recycled water.”

These awareness campaigns are proving to be effective, as students increasingly demonstrate sensitivity and self-discipline as far as responsible water use.

“I always turn off the tap when I brush my teeth and try to take shorter showers, especially during the summer,” said USC student Sophia Thomopoulos. Another student, Gianna Nicolay, has ditched plastic water bottles and now consumes tap water for drinking purposes. Some individuals, however, like international student Grace Wang, are motivated by financial considerations.

“I didn’t pay a lot of attention to my water consumption habits, but I do worry about it when I get the water bill, like it’s so high this month,” she said.

Despite these efforts, USC has a lot of catching up to do in its efforts to achieve sustainability. While earlier this year California Governor Jerry Brown mandated a 25 percent reduction in water consumption compared to 2013 levels, USC has only slashed its square foot water use by 14 percent compared to its 2010 consumption. As a result, USC’s performance falls short of other educational institutions in Los Angeles.

Pitzer College, which is renowned for its green initiatives, has decreased the watering of its plants on campus from six days to two days a week, the equivalent of 66 percent. But USC could start catching up as early as next year if it manages to put in place some of the policies being currently planned.

“We’ll see a change in the behavior of students on campus and hopefully a little bit more from the administration as well. There’s just going to be a lot more to come related to different environmental issues with ESA next semester,” Bethea said. “We’re trying our hardest to make these changes that people need to adjust in their day to day lives as seamless as possible, so it doesn’t seem like a chore, but just part of their regular lifestyle.”

Follow contributor Walid El-Atrache on Twitter.

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