Minding the DROPS: Water conservation projects teach awareness at schools

by Renee Cashmere

As a first and second grader in the Bay Area in 1976-77, an epic drought made impressions upon me that have lasted a lifetime. Even before the more recent drought began, I remembered the conservation rules all Californian’s were required to follow back then. We flushed our toilets with a bucket of water filled from the bathtub, washed our hands in a filled bathroom sink that was changed only once a day, and had timed showers.

Conservation and a respect for the resource of water was a way of life for Californian’s who experienced that drought. Hopefully the lessons of conservation our children are learning now will give them insight into how to be water wise and manage our natural resources in the future. Already, some California schools struggle to ensure students have access to safe drinking water, with an estimated one in four schools not meeting the legal requirements according to a recent CSBA drinking water fact sheet.

In 1976-77, an epic drought made impressions upon me that have lasted a lifetime.

Having two school-aged children of my own in the Sacramento Unified School District, I have seen the benefits of school conservation programs first hand. Children learn from a variety of sources, one of the most impressionable being tangible projects in their everyday environment. I have seen students at my daughters’ school benefit from onsite projects that the kids participated in from planning through construction.

In one example, a recent installation of a drought tolerant garden provided hands-on experience planting and handling materials. Such learning provided students with many insights and opportunities. Students learned to design and implement plans, to problem solve solutions to the drought, and increased their environmental awareness from hearing about the drought in the classroom daily.

California’s State Water Resources Control Board also recently took steps in this direction to encourage water conservation at schools by approving $30.2 million in funds for campus conservation. The just-concluded Drought Response Outreach Program for Schools, commonly known as DROPS,  provided grants for school districts to create opportunities for stormwater retention and reuse, and to raise awareness of sustainability. All projects included an educational and outreach element to increase awareness of students and the public.

Examples of projects funded by DROPS include building rain gardens, rainwater harvesting projects and installing water-wise landscaping. The Los Angeles Unified School District was awarded the largest single grant, receiving $5 million, and approximately $12.5 million was allocated to schools qualifying as Disadvantaged Schools. The funds for the grants were generated through unallocated funds remaining from propositions 13, 40 and 50.

DROPS is an example of the innovative programming and funding needed to inspire California schools and students during these dry times. Interested school districts and county offices of education can find more information about DROPS on the SWRCB website.



Renee Cashmere is a freelance writer, and has been working as a facilitator and educator in the natural resources field for the Nature Conservancy, Water Education Foundation, and other groups. She has two children and is a California native.

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