UC Santa Cruz Drought Planning

The Santa Cruz area is unique as it relies entirely on rainfall, surface runoff, and groundwater within watersheds located within Santa Cruz County, with no water imported from beyond the local area. In April of 2014, the Santa Cruz City Council declared a “stage three” water shortage emergency, and imposed reductions of 25 percent on all water utility users beginning immediately and to continue through 2015.

By implementing technology and behavioral programs, UCSC met its water conservation goals well ahead of schedule and realized an impressive simple payback of just over one year.

In an open letter to the campus, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal asked people to reduce their water consumption to meet the mandatory rationing. Because UCSC had already developed a Strategic Water Master Plan in 2007, and had previously implemented water-conserving measures, campus facility leaders were well prepared to respond to the drought response challenge. Monthly meetings were held with key campus stakeholders to review goals and performance, to share information on challenges and successes, and to disseminate information widely across campus.

The campus piloted a web based water management system from Beacon in collaboration with the local water utility.

The monthly stakeholder meetings resulted in a list of water efficiency and management measures that were prioritized and used as a resource for funding decisions. The campus provided $374,000 to implement a wide range of projects, including the installation of water-efficient toilets and improvements to landscape irrigation such as highly efficient drip irrigation, irrigation controls and submetering. Removal of turf areas, changes to marine lab systems, and water-conserving laboratory autoclaves were also implemented.

Providing regular feedback on water use and other outreach methods were important aspects of the drought response effort. Monthly water reports were provided to campus stakeholders to set individual goals, assess overall campus progress, and to heighten awareness to everyone on campus, in some cases encouraging friendly competition to reduce water usage. This feedback was enhanced through the pilot demonstration of a web-based water management system from Beacon Advanced Metering Analytics, enabling people to see highly detailed water usage data. This system provided information useful for leak detection and benchmarking against past usage, with highly granular data that allowed stakeholders to analyze water use in near real-time. The success of this system has led the campus to expand its use to all water meters on campus, and several area water utilities are converting to the system as well.

Communications and events informed summer conference guests and new students about the drought and actions they can take to save water.

Communication and outreach to the entire campus community were important contributors to the project’s success. Information was conveyed through a comprehensive website, signage in restrooms and kitchens, and outdoor signs near stressed landscape and turf areas. Educational programs were created to inform new students and conference guests. A team of water conservation interns assisted in delivering drought information to students and staff, checking water data for accuracy, and reporting leaks and fixture problems.

The results of this multi-faceted approach have resulted in the campus exceeding its goal. From June 2014 to January 2015, the campus saved 27.8 million gallons, which is 22.4 percent below the 2013-14 baseline (and a 28-percent reduction below the UC policy baseline 2002-07). Water-related utility cost savings during this period were $280,000, with a total annual savings of approximately $350,000, resulting in a simple payback of slightly over one year. These goals were met, to a great degree, from the efforts of facilities staff that worked to build collaborative relationships with the local water utility, as well as with faculty, students, and auxiliaries such as athletics and vendors.

Images courtesy of UCSC.

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Green Features
  • Irrigation controls, submetering, and drip emitters
  • Web-based water management system enabled
  • Water-efficient toilets
  • Removal of turf areas
  • Monthly water use reporting to campus stakeholders
  • Communication and outreach to campus community
  • Monthly stakeholder meetings to manage goals and performance
  • Assistance from student water interns
Estimated Water and Cost Savings
Completion Date
Project Team