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Aliso, creeks to undergo rebirth

Mills College Weekly

An aerial photograph of Mills shows a square of emerald,
surrounded on all sides by concrete-colored urban development. Its
value to the community as green space, with three living creeks and
a lake, is inspiring a movement led by several faculty and staff to
preserve and restore habitat, make the campus more accessible to
the wider community, and install programs that will dramatically
cut waste and energy use.  

In a colloquium held Nov. 4, Museum Director Stefan Jost and
biology professor Susan Spiller introduced a new healing plants
tour, designed to give students and visitors a reason for walking
around on campus.

A Multicultural Engagement grant from the Irvine Foundation
funded the creation of the tour, to draw people in the surrounding
community onto the Mills campus, according to Jost.

Students interviewed community members to learn of traditional
uses of the plants, and two faculty members, Wa Chang and Bindu
Sunder, contributed information from their respective cultures. Art
students designed labels for the twelve species of plants with the
gathered information, he said.

Several of the plants are California natives, while others, on
display in the botanical garden, are introduced from other parts of
the world.

Paul Richards, Director of Facilities at Mills, described the
challenges of maintaining and restoring the creeks and Lake

Pavements and roofs in the surrounding neighborhoods shed rather
than absorb rain and cause heavy runoff, causing erosion of creek
banks and silting up of Lake Aliso, which is only a quarter as big
as it was a hundred years ago. Every winter it has to be drained to
prevent it from silting up completely.

“We use a million gallons a week from the lake to water the
landscaping on campus,” Richards said. “It’s a valuable asset just
as a water source for us.”

Removing ivy and other non-native plants along the creeks, and
re-establishing native plants, will help minimize erosion. Richards
and a community group, “Friends of Two Creeks,” are working with
the city on wider creek and watershed cleanups and restoration.

Leila Khatapoush, a student who participated in two creek
cleanup days at Mills last spring, said, “There are so few urban
creeks left that we need to treasure, honor and maintain the ones
we still have.

Few people realize that most creeks have been put in underground
culverts and destroyed in cities. It’s important that Mills is
caring for its creeks and restoring the native plants along

Richards is also excited by programs to minimize the negative
impacts Mills has on the environment. Soon all kitchen waste and
landscaping debris will be hauled away to be composted, and
everything else except Styrofoam and plastic bags will be recycled
as well. “The composting is now economically feasible because now
there is a market for it with organic farmers,” he said.

His other passion is ‘living buildings,’ that minimize energy
use through such innovations as openable windows, sunshades, siting
for solar gain and recycling of grey (wash) water, and also produce
their own solar energy. The social science building was renovated
using some of these ideas, and qualifies as a ‘leadership in
energy’ building, Richards said.

“While the initial cost for living buildings is much higher, the
minimal amount required for maintenance, energy and cleanup of
pollution over the life of a building makes up for that cost many
times over,” he said. “Mills can join a worldwide commitment to
using technology that already exists to solve these problems.”