Feature Stories

Sophia Labeko, August

UCSF Water Conservation Expert in Drought Times

Drought. The word that annually saturates California’s news with record-breaking data. The most recent report shows that 60% of California is experiencing extreme and exceptional drought, 37% severe drought, and 2% moderate drought.

Drought, a prolonged period of below-average precipitation, results in water shortage for people and the environment. In California, past droughts have caused dairy operations to close, farmland to go fallow, livestock to require expensive supplemental feed, high forest and wildlife mortality, and the two most obvious outcomes that every Bay Area resident experiences–water-use restriction and fires.

What Causes a Drought?
It is true, “the current drought is the driest period in 1,200 years and it’s related to climate change,” says Eli Perszyk (pictured above), conservation program manager, UCSF Facilities Services. He goes on to explain that higher temperatures dry out the plants and landscapes. Current water conditions are made worse by decades of groundwater pumping, which dries out rivers and causes the land to collapse.

Experts are predicting that California’s precipitation will shift to intense storms, where heavy rain falls over a short amount of time. In conjunction with higher temperatures, which prevent adequate snow formation, we will have less runoff from the mountains. Everything leading to the aridification we are already seeing across the west.

What Is UCSF Doing?
When California enters a drought, the California State Water Resource Control Board imposes emergency drought regulations, such as prohibiting the use of potable water for building washing and ornamental lawn irrigation.

“As a certain amount of water is required for building and research operations, the most important measures we can take are recycling water and collecting stormwater in green infrastructure or re-use,” explains Perszyk.

To this date, UCSF has installed high-efficiency restroom fixtures, cooling and steam system efficiency, and starting this month will reduce or halt lawn watering. All these efforts have already resulted in 53% reduced water consumption, based on campus population, and compared to the 2007 baseline.

While the data is encouraging, Eli says the team is not done making changes to conserve water, “we are actively developing projects to collect and recycle water. We just completed feasibility studies for stormwater collection and water recycling projects at Mission Bay and Parnassus, and are pursuing grants from SFPUC to help finance the projects.”

Inspired to Take Action?
Perszyk and Gail Lee, director, Office of Sustainability, collected the following resources for San Francisco and East Bay residents.

- SFPUC rainwater harvesting and rebates: https://sfpuc.org/learning/how-you-can-help/rainwater-harvesting
- East Bay Municipal Utility District water conservation and rebates: https://www.ebmud.com/water/conservation-and-rebates
- Rain Barrel rebate: https://bawsca.dropletportal.com/application/steps/barrels