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Mills to face rationing if water use not cut

Helena Guan

In the face of a statewide drought and mandatory water rationing, Mills is stepping up to reduce water use on campus.

The board of the East Bay Municipal Utility District (East Bay MUD) declared its water conservation program after two consecutive dry years reduced the district reservoir to dangerously low levels, according to a May 13 San Francisco Chronicle article.

“Water is the new oil,” said Barb Haber, the interim associate vice president of Campus Planning and Facilities. “We desperately need to conserve it, or it will be gone.”

East Bay MUD intends to cut all water use by 15 percent, according to their website. However, they give individual residences a specific reduction goal.

In August, all residences that get water from East Bay MUD received a letter that listed their water allotment. This allowance is based on the amount of water the customer used in each two-month billing period over the last three years.

If residences exceed the amount of water they are allowed to use, East Bay MUD charges a fee, which includes a two-dollar surcharge for every 748 gallons of extra water the residence used.

Haber said that she does not know how much water Mills is currently using, but did say that campus residence halls are not meeting the required reductions.

In order to raise awareness about rationing, Mills posted flyers that featured tips on how to reduce personal water use in several residential halls.

Staff also put up stickers that say “Thank you for not wasting water” on campus bathroom mirrors and shower stalls.

“Maybe if the student sees it, they’ll think twice about leaving the water running while they’re brushing their teeth,” Haber said.

Some students have taken up the cause. Last November, Earth CORPS, an environmental group on campus, teamed up with Bon Appetit to remove the trays from Founders Commons and thus reduce the amount of water needed to rinse them.

Sophomore Magee Page, the president of Earth CORPS, said that they were inspired by the University of Arkansas, which went trayless last August, and saved 200,000 gallons of water because of it.

Mills students used 192 trays during an average weekday lunch, and the dishwasher must be run 24 times to clean all the trays, according to the October edition of the Mills Sustainability Newsletter.

Bon Appetit began by removing the trays every Wednesday. Earth CORPS members advertised their cause by standing in front of Founder’s steps with a billboard. The billboard was made out of two trays and said, “Go a day without a tray.”

They collected signatures from 240 students who pledged to go trayless, according to Page. The Sustainability Newsletter reported 181 signatures.

By the week before fall finals, the trays were permanently removed.

The College is also taking a technological approach to water conservation.

On Wed. Jan. 21, staff members conducted an inventory of all dormitory showerheads. Any showerhead that is not a low-flow model will be replaced with water-saving ones equipped with an aerator, according to a student-news post Ruth Sears placed.

Haber said an aerator injects the water with oxygen so that the water feels fuller even though less water is released.

She added that most people don’t know the difference between the shower heads. “They’ll both allow you to get the soap out of your hair,” she said.

While a regular showerhead uses 42 gallons of water in a 10-minute shower the low-flow model uses only 10 gallons in the same amount of time, according to Sears’s post.

Currently, only half of the residence hall showerheads are low-flow, but Haber hopes these will be replaced soon.

She said she also wanted to put aerators on Mills sinks, but the sinks are too old to support them.

The Life Sciences Building also houses a water-conserving feature. The toilets are duo flush, so people can choose a full flush or half-flush, which saves water.

Haber said that if any toilets need to be replaced in the future and the building space allows it, Mills will install dual flush toilets.

Even equipment maintenance makes a difference in water use, Haber said. She explained that just wasting small amounts of water adds up over time.

According to the East Bay MUD website, a leaky toilet can waste up to 7,000 gallons of water per month.

A faucet leaking a steady drip, which is about 100 drops per minute, wastes 350 gallons of water per month. A small stream wastes 2,000 to 2,700 gallons per month.

According to an Oct. 2 ABC Local article, East Bay MUD customers have cut water usage by 11.3 percent as of October 2008, but this is short of the company’s 15 percent water reduction goal.

For more information on water rationing and the California drought, visit

1. Always make sure to turn off the faucet properly. If it still drips, take out a work order and have the faucet fixed.

2. Instead of using running water, fill the sink with water when you are washing dishes or rinsing fruit and vegetables.

3. Put a gallon jug under the faucet when you are trying to heat running water in the sink or tub. You can then use this water for other things around the house.

4. Don’t walk away while water is warming up. You may not get back to it before hot water is wasted.

5. While brushing your teeth, turn off the tap. Rinse using a cup for water; run the tap only to rinse the toothbrush.

6. When showering, wet your body first and then turn off the water. Apply soap, and then turn on the water to rinse.

Source: East Bay MUD website