Responding to the Drought

by Nathaniel Browning, Policy & Programs Officer

You would have to be living under a very dry rock to not realize California is currently experiencing a fourth consecutive year of drought, the worst in recorded history and one that could last decades. School districts across the state are experiencing drying wells, providing students with bottled water instead of tap, and seeing football fields turn into dustbowls.

With these issues at hand, Local Educational Agencies are in immediate need of retrofitting facilities and protocols in order to take advantage of the limited rainfall California does receive. To help, the State Water Resources Control Board recently developed the Drought Response Outreach Program for Schools, or if you are in a water frame of mind, DROPS. This initiative aims to help schools capture, treat and re-use rain water, an effort known as ecological storm water management.

Storm water management is an important aspect to installing sustainable drought tolerant landscaping. Bioretention ponds, bioswales, and rain gardens are all elements of ecological storm water maintenance. Such elements are depressions in the ground near a roofline or paved area for which the water can easily drain into. For schools, gardens with drought tolerant and native plants are an effective way to lessen the impact of drought and lessen their water use.

Such gardens can also provide a handy ‘teachable moment.’ Think of the learning possibilities connected with Common Core that are present in an ecologically-minding native garden that collects water to grow student vegetables. Elementary students could create a native plant alphabet garden, learn about water conservation, and other curriculum regarding rainwater runoff management. Middle and high school students could learn about entomology and plant science. High school students could follow the example of Porterville’s Environmental Science Academy students by designing and installing their own rainwater management systems and landscaping.

This hands-on experience is an important component of the DROPS program. One requirement for participants is connecting learning and experience to any funded projects.
So, school leaders, take advantage of this opportunity and apply to the  DROPS program.  Applications are due by Jan. 15, 2015 and approximately $25.5 million in funds will be awarded. When it comes to drought and water use in California, it’s time for school districts to make a splash.


Nathaniel Browning is a Policy & Programs Officer with the California School Boards Association.

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