No, San Luis Obispo is not still in a drought, according to the man in charge of Cal Poly’s water. No, that does not mean San Luis Obispo should waste water, he added.
Noah Evans manages Whale Rock Reservoir, built by Cal Poly, the City of San Luis Obispo and the California Men’s Colony. He lives at the reservoir in Cayucos and takes care of the 1,400 acres of land around the reservoir, the dam, its pump stations and 18 miles of pipeline.
“It’s almost a media thing to say we’re in a drought right now,” Evans said.
San Luis Obispo is behind on its rain average and has gone through a dry winter, but the area is not quite in a drought yet, he said.
The United States Drought Monitor holds the area is in a severe drought, but notes that it focuses on broad-scale conditions and that local conditions will vary.
As of April 25, Whale Rock was at 78.79 percent capacity and held 30,702 acre-feet of water. That is 925 million gallons which would fill Spanos Stadium four miles high. Cal Poly is entitled to one-third of Whale Rock’s capacity and Evans said an average of 10 percent of the water is typically used every year.
Evans said he’s not worried about the level of Cal Poly’s main water source, but said everyone should conserve water.
“Water conservation is a way of life. It’s not something that you’re just going to do when it hasn’t rained for a year or two,” Evans said.
Director of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability at Cal Poly Dennis Elliot said Cal Poly has been conserving water since long before the 2015 drought and before Gov. Jerry Brown demanded a state-wide drought response plan. He agreed the area is not quite in a drought yet.
The university has remained at the same water use since 1990, Elliot said, even with the campus population doubling. His plan for the future involves low-flush toilets, smart irrigation and partnerships with Cal Poly graduates.
Cal Poly’s focus on water conservation is in the toilets, Elliot said. Some of the old toilets on campus use as much as 3.5 gallons per flush. The standard the university has used in the past is 1.6 gallons per flush, but they are moving toward 1.28 gallons per flush and are considering a pilot for a vacuum-driven system that is 0.43 gallons per flush.
The university also plans to put in an irrigation system that monitors real-time weather conditions and soil moisture levels to prevent over-watering. It would stop watering if it was raining and turn off pipes automatically, if they are busted, by capping water yield. Elliot said they are about halfway finished with it, but the project has slowed down since the landscape manager working on the project left Cal Poly and a replacement has not been found.
Agriculture draws from groundwater, which crops technician Johnny Rosecrans said has been constant even through the 2015 drought.
A smart irrigation system has already been installed for the orchids grown on campus. Rosecrans oversees about 50 acres in the crops unit and said he has installed more than 25 sets of irrigation sensors. Four sensor stations report to his computer and phone, so he can monitor ground moisture from home.
Water use is still complicated to manage correctly, Rosecrans said. He still has to make decisions based off the 10-day weather forecast, the time of year and fruit yield. His sensors make it easier though, and he has a better system than when he joined seven years ago and irrigated based on fixed schedules.
Elliot said students’ participation in water saving is what drives down indoor water use, even with the changes he has been making. He encourages students to call maintenance for leaky faucets or wasted water.