Pomona College, in the heart of Claremont and the founding member of the Claremont Colleges, was established in 1887 with visions of being a “college in a garden.” If you’ve visited campus, you can appreciate the careful planning of past and present master planners and landscaping architects. The campus abounds with expansive lawns, bubbling fountains, and shading trees. Marston Quadrangle is renowned for its carefully planned pathways anchored by the regal Bridges Auditorium and Carnegie Hall, and balanced by Bridges Hall of Music and Smith Campus Center. Majestic redwoods, sycamores and lush lawns embellish this magnificent architecture and symmetry. If you have not stood in the center of Marston Quad and turned a 360 degree circle, drop what you’re doing and go experience this now.
In the past decade, Pomona College has focused efforts on a shared vision of campus sustainability. The college has made great strides in increasing its waste diversion from the landfill, generating more electricity from renewables on-site, sourcing food more locally, constructing new buildings with stringent environmental standards, and on and on. One of the areas of progress is sustainable use of water resources. What is Pomona to do with its “college in a garden” setting and vision?
Pomona College recognizes the need to conserve its water resources. The college stewards two groundwater wells, providing about fifteen percent of all pumped groundwater in the area. Pomona is a partner in the Claremont Colleges’ proposed reclamation project to provide irrigation water for all the campuses. An engineering feasibility study has been completed for two reclamation plants that will use innovative technology suitable for the campus environment. Purified waste water will replace potable water now being used and reduce Claremont’s need to import water by eight percent. The importance of groundwater is understood at Pomona, and Pomona has made significant effort in the area of stormwater retention with the removal of impermeable surfaces and the installation of bioswales and native plantings. This past year, this was seen in the removal of 26 acres of impermeable surfaces on campus at Fourth Street and with the removal of the parking lot surrounding Bridges Auditorium. Replacement surfaces are permeable, and an acre of grass turf was removed and replaced with a retention pond, mulch and drought tolerant plantings. Campus sustainability efforts also have included significant infrastructural solutions to curbing water consumption, such as installing campus- wide dual flush toilets, water aerators in sinks, low flow shower heads, and a state- of-the-art landscaping system, pressure regulators and tighter scheduling that has reduced frequency of landscape watering by about 50 percent.
The City of Claremont, similar to Pomona College, finds its identity in its unique charm, its beautiful streets, vast parks, and quiet hometown community. We are the “City of Trees”. We pride ourselves in the care and upkeep of our homes, gardens and public spaces. Driving into Claremont, it feels different, and our landscape and trees contribute significantly to that charming feel.
Our green lawns, however, cannot be separated from the realities of the Southern California water plight and current drought. About 50 percent of Claremont water comes from local sources and 50 percent from the California Water Project, bringing water from hundreds of miles away. Rainfall in Los Angeles for 2013 was at a record low of 3.6 inches for the year, beating out the previous record low of 4.1 inches set in 1953. Snow pack is down 20 percent. Forest fires like the Colby Fire near Glendora are imminent. Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency for the State of California. Northern California already has instituted voluntary water rationing.
With increasing drought conditions predicted for the future, isn’t it time to look into tighter restrictions on our water use? More semi-arid plantings in our parks and yards? Less turf in the medians of boulevards? While we love our trees, our parks, gardens and landscapes, they all require water. Lots of water. The Claremont community has already made impressive progress in water conservation, and now, with Pomona College, we need to do even more to conserve both city and residential water. We need a philosophy of landscaping that can identify the value in our chosen plantings and rethink our choices. The City and Sustainable Claremont are launching DRIP, the Drought Resistant Irrigation Project, a new community-wide partnership to make it easier to be water-wise.
Let’s see what we can do together!
Demystifying Sustainability is an initiative of Sustainable Claremont (sustainableclaremont.org).