LMC combats drought plight

The fountains in front of the Los Medanos College library and gymnasium no longer have water but this isn’t a malfunction and they aren’t broken: it’s the college’s response to the ongoing California drought.

According to Building and Grounds Manager Russ Holt, they turned them off to conserve water and although the new fountain in front of the Student Services building is still functioning, “it could be on the chopping block next.”

Not only are the water fixtures currently out of commission, but also future construction projects will not include any similar decorative features that involve using H2O to help bring down usage.

“The projects I’m involved with, like our upcoming police station, I’m like, I want no irrigation and nothing that needs water drawn in it,” said Holt, adding that future landscapes will involve hardscaping or dryscaping.

LMC is not alone in this decision. According to Contra Costa Community College District Chief Facilities Planner Ray Pyle, his new standard will also be district wide.

“For future projects, we have decided that water features, such as fountains or water bubblers, will not be included,” said Pyle.

Although the fountains use re-circulated water, water loss is still a problem due to evaporation and the heat. We have been experiencing numbers in the hundreds over the last week, which can make this worse, said Holt.

Also, providing plants with water at the right time is key to sustainability, so it is done at night.

“We don’t do any watering during the day,” explained Holt. “It helps the evaporation problem and all the water gets to the turf.”

But the college has also recently turned off several irrigation sections and just let the grass turn brown, said LMC President Bob Kratochvil.

“Crews are also monitoring irrigation breaks — broken sprinklers — and water frequency,” he added.

But this type of supervision takes extra manpower.

“Now, rather than just one gardener checking the irrigation and sprinklers in their area, we also have a second person looking at all areas to help insure that we are using the water in the most efficient way,” explained Holt.

These changes are due to a letter received by the Contra Costa Water District asking for decrease in usage earlier this summer.

“They’ve demanded a 40 percent cutback,” said Holt, adding that they supply water to the LMC Lake, which is used for irrigation on campus.

And although the lake receives water from the water district, the drought seems to be taking its toll there as well, causing an abnormal growth of aquatic weeds.

“Last year we had to harvest it and this is because we’re not turning that water over very much,” said Holt, adding that they have also hired a company to clean it using a bacterial method.

But there may be a solution to this issue — rain.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website, the current El Niño — an infrequently occurring weather pattern — has strengthened over the past few months and this could be beneficial because “strong El Niños are often associated with heavy winter rains across California.”

This isn’t a guarantee, said the administration’s website, that above average rainfall will occur during the wet season here in California but it does provide favorable conditions for it to happen and provides a bit of optimism for the future.

“I’m really hoping that all the warnings of this huge winter coming should clean that lake up really good,” said Holt, who added that the predicted record rainfall would “help our lake tremendously.”

But if the drought does eventually ease up, Holt said there is no excuse to continue to waste water and the college will be continuing on the path that it’s on.

Currently, LMC is also looking to reduce its domestic water usage, which comes from the Pittsburg Water District for drinking and use in the bathrooms, by replacing faucets in the bathrooms.

“The newer stuff we are putting in are a lot more simple and reliable and they don’t get stuck for us,” said Holt.

All the new standards seem to be working here at LMC because the first meter numbers the college received from the water district were encouraging.

“We weren’t using over our allotment,” said Holt.

But water saving isn’t new to the college district.

“We already seek to minimize water use by using low-flow fixtures and also use recycled water for irrigation,” said Pyle. “The drought hasn’t changed these practices.”

And although the district has not received mandates for water usage “plumbing codes have changed recently, requiring new water saving measures in design,” explained Pyle. “[And] as always, we design to code.”