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Bay Area gearing up for drought

Despite the rain saturating the Bay Area, state officials are still gearing up for drought conditions, and Mills officials said measures are in place to deal with the dry season ahead.

Architectural Assistant Brian Harrington said that Mills is reducing its outdoor water use. This includes growing native plants, the rainwater collection system and the attempt to restore Lake Aliso.

Barbara Haber, Interim Associate Vice President of Campus Planning and Facilities, said that while the rain in the Bay Area does help, it will not directly alleviate the drought.

According to a Feb 24 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, managers at the East Bay Municipal Utility District estimate that 40 more inches of rain would help get the Alameda and Contra Costa counties out of drought which has collected just less than 25 inches of rain since October.

“What rain does here is make people not water their lawn,” Haber said. “We need rain here and really wet snow in the Sierras.”

The melted snow in the Sierra Nevadas in Tahoe, California is what fills the reservoirs that the East Bay Municipal Utility District uses, Haber said.

Mills College receives its water from that reservoir.

Harrington said Mills’ water intensive landscaping will affect Mills because of East Bay MUD’s restrictions on water use.

In the past, Mills used water from Lake Aliso to water the grounds but now has to rely on the city’s water.

Lion Creek runs through the center of Mills College has yet to be negatively affected by the drought, according to Harrington.

He wrote in an email that the water flow normally gets low in the summer but the drought could deplete the groundwater that supplies the creek.

The creek has been rising with the recent weather, according to Sophomore Juliet Weintraub, who is taking the “Greening of Mills College” class this semester. The class objective is to learn about environmental and sustainability issues on both the Mills campus and beyond its gates.

Through that class, she was able to measure the creek’s water flow and noticed by observation that the water flow significantly changes after a rainy day.

The stream flow is a measure of the volume of water flowing past a gage in a fixed amount of time.

The plants by Lion Creek were just planted at the beginning of the rainy season. These plants are a native drought species, which are better suited to the climate and droughts, and won’t need as much irrigation. Yet since they are young plants, they still need supplemental irrigation in the summer.

Harrington said he and a colleague have gone out with buckets at times to water the plants using water from the creek. However, due to the rain in February, they haven’t had to irrigate the plants since they were planted in October.

The rainwater collection system in the Natural Science Building also helps reduce Mills reliance on East Bay MUD water. The water collected is used to flush toilets and run water in that building.

A buried cistern will service the new Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business building.

But the drought creates a problem with the cistern system.

“If there’s no rain then those cisterns aren’t filling up,” Harrington said.

Harrington’s solution to the water crisis:

“Plant natives. Reduce irrigation. And hopefully, we can restore the lake.”