Creative Commons

Oriana Bardinelli
Special to Mustang News

Dexter Lawn will stay green, but soon Cal Poly students will find less turf elsewhere on campus. The school is letting 28 percent of its turf — a proposed 13.6 acres in total — go brown in response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s new demands that campuses cut their water use by one-fourth.

Other big changes in the plan include more efficient showerheads and a new “smart” control system to monitor irrigation.

The changes come as part of a revision to the university’s 2015 Drought Response Plan, finalized May 6.

Administrators are confident the plan can exceed financial and conservation goals.

On April 1, Brown imposed a mandatory 25 percent water use restriction throughout California. The order addresses both personal and institutional conservation efforts, requiring residents and businesses to cut their use by a quarter compared to 2013 water consumption.

For universities across California, cuts will begin with revisions to landscape master plans and building modifications for water efficiency, such as low-flow toilets and faucets. Campuses throughout the state will be forced to, “go brown” literally as they shut off water to plants and turf to meet restriction requirements.

Cal Poly’s campus will be no exception.

“We are trying to be as efficient as we can,” said Scott Loosley, director of facilities operations for Cal Poly. Loosley represents the landscape design interests of the university and helped revise the existing Cal Poly Drought Response Plan.

The 2015 update, approved by Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong on April 24, is expected to exceed Brown’s conservation order once current irrigation and housing technology upgrades are complete.

Does this mean O’Neil Green outside the Orfalea College of Business, and other campus lawns will be turning brown?

“I hope they choose to cut back (on watering) areas on the outsides of campus,” said Jesus Nolasco a mathematics senior. Nolasco studies outside between classes for at least an hour a day, usually on Dexter Lawn or the grass surrounding Graphic Arts (building 26).

On a college campus, lawns serve many purposes, offering students and faculty an outdoor space to learn, study, relax, exercise, and gather between classes.

“We use our lawns on campus more than other places in the community where they merely hold an ornamental purpose,” said Conner Everts, the Executive Director of The Southern California Watershed Alliance.

Administrators considered this in the plan. Cal Poly does not anticipate disrupting the maintenance of major turf areas. The report says irrigation cuts will have “a minimal impact to the campus esthetic or the most heavily used lawns.”

The turf cutback is expected to reduce Cal Poly’s total water use by 6 percent.

If lawns are removed, most will be re-planted with drought-tolerant plants, according to Loosley.  This will be a long-term effort, pending funding to purchase water-efficient plants.

The Drought Response Plan proposes three focus areas for conservation management:

  • Turf reduction
  • Compost/mulching
  • Irrigation controls

Turf reduction, as discussed, offers a significant relief of water waste for the university.

The plan also suggests a recommendation for using Cal Poly compost in planting beds. Compost enriches surrounding soil and retains moisture. Available at no cost from Farm Ops, this measure will save 13-acre feet of water per year and is already in practice.

Recommendations for irrigation control suggest installing a smart system to optimize water use. A digital control system can monitor irrigation needs in-real-time, with consideration to: plant type/needs, weather, and soil condition.

The Cal State University Chancellor’s Office approved a facilities request in March of this year to install and modify the university’s current system. The project will cost $153,000 saving 25 acre feet of water per year.

If successful, landscape recommendations featured in the Drought Response Plan will conserve nearly 100-acre feet of water per year. This is estimated to save Cal Poly $127,000 a year, returning investment for the school within the next 16 months.

It’s unlikely that Cal Poly will run out of water if the drought continues. Cal Poly is a partner in the Whale Rock Reservoir and controls its own water rights, supply source and storage capacity. With the reservoir now at 53 percent of capacity, the report says Cal Poly could supply campus for nearly six years with no rainfall whatsoever.

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