Wednesday, May 6, 2015

East County college district and its colleges take creative approaches to conserving water

As California continues to grapple with an unrelenting drought,  the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District and its two East County colleges are taking creative approaches to water and energy conservation.
John Thomas does some pruning in the nursery operated by Cuyamaca College's ornamental horticulture program.
Newly installed drought-tolerant landscaping is part of Grossmont College's outdoor education zone.

At Grossmont College, water is the focus of its “One Theme-One Campus” project in which instructors and students are exploring many aspects of water, including conservation, from a multidisciplinary approach.

The college has also created four drought-tolerant gardens as part of the campus’ outdoor education zone, recognized by the League for Innovation in the Community College as a 2014 Innovation of the Year. The sustainability project transformed campus landscaping with drought-tolerant native plants, creating outdoor learning labs for biology and Earth Science courses, while conserving water and campus resources.

Cuyamaca College is widely known for its all-encompassing approach to water conservation, from specialized academic programs including ornamental horticulture and water/wastewater technology to an independently operated water conservation garden.
The college is now applying for a baccalaureate program in water utilities management, which would educate students on the complexities of managing water and wastewater systems. The college is hoping to be one of 15 community colleges selected to offer bachelor’s degrees as part of a statewide pilot program.

 “No other resource is more vital to the state’s survival and prosperity than its water supply and delivery infrastructure,” Cuyamaca College President Mark J. Zacovic said.
The college district is also taking a new approach to resource conservation by signing
on with Cenergistic, a Dallas-based energy conservation company, in an innovative  public/private partnership that guarantees substantial reductions in water use, energy and related costs.

Winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence Award in 2011-2015, Cenergistic has helped educational institutions nationwide reduce energy consumption for nearly 30 years.

 “We take very seriously our role as stewards of public monies and see this as a tremendous opportunity to cut energy and utility expenses, and at the same time, develop sustainable practices to reduce water use as called for by the governor during this state’s ongoing drought,” said Cindy L. Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. “This is not a short-term green project, but a comprehensive, rigorous and sustainable energy program to help us save critically endangered resources for years to come.”

The program will be funded by guaranteed utility savings and includes an on-site energy specialist provided and trained by Cenergistic who will be doing detailed analyses, with reports to be issued to the governing board and the district’s budgeting council.
In San Diego County, the district joins MiraCosta College, along with K-12 districts in Carlsbad, Escondido, Fallbrook and Chula Vista, as Cenergistic partners.

Other conservation efforts
The district has been conserving water and energy in other ways including:

  • Using Calsense irrigation sensors, which monitor environmental conditions and adjust watering schedules, accordingly.
  •  Using low-flush and touchless restroom plumbing fixtures.
  •  Converting irrigated areas to drought-tolerant plants, mulching groundcover and switching to drip irrigation.
  •  Designing all new construction projects with drought- tolerant xeriscape.
  •  Upgrading pool equipment at Grossmont College that is expected to lower water consumption by 100,000 gallons per month.
  •  Installing energy-efficient lighting for parking lots, walkways and classrooms, where 8,000 fluorescent bulbs were replaced with LED lights.
Randy Clark, the district’s interim senior director of Facilities Planning, Development and Maintenance, said the district’s water-conscious practices have been in place for years, but new technology is providing new ways for businesses and institutions to tackle the state’s water woes.

“Thanks to concerted efforts on both college campuses, we have been conservation-conscious for years,” Clark said. “We continue to look for new ways to reduce our water and energy consumption, especially in light of the current statewide water crisis.”

For more information about the Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges and the district, go to

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