Photo by Morgan Grana.
Photo by Morgan Grana.

Gallons of precious water are wasted each day as they swirl down countless sinks and drains. Due to the heavy winter rainfall in Santa Cruz, it may be easy to take water for granted. In actuality, showers and faucets at UC Santa Cruz dorms and apartments make up 40.5 percent of the campus’ total water usage.

Sarah Finder, a second-year global economics major from College Nine, is transforming her passion and concern for the environment into action as she dives into a campus project documenting water usage.

“The goal of the project is to try to raise the awareness that we [as a campus] care about how we act in the community,” she said.

As a University Relations Good Neighbor intern, Finder aims to foster good relationships between the campus and the city of Santa Cruz.

Finder’s project, debuting this week, involves the distribution of mock water bills to students living in Crown and Merrill apartments.

The bills will be distributed three times during the quarter, displaying water usage for February, March and April. This billing will allow students to learn how much water they utilize per month and how much money they would realistically pay if they lived off-campus.

UCSC uses about 200 million gallons of water per year. According to the 2007 UCSC Water Efficiency Survey, the campus consumes 5 percent of the total Santa Cruz Water Department demand.

“I take water for granted. If I were told how much I use, I could cut down,” said Tyler Hunt, second-year economics major and resident of the Merrill apartments.

There is a great need to conserve water to keep housing fees from rising and to reduce the strain on the city water supply. Finder hopes increasing awareness about campus water use will help to create a more sustainable campus.

She created the mock water bills herself, taking the mean water readings of the 14 buildings and 92 apartments located in Crown and Merrill to calculate hypothetical costs.

Ian McDonald, the UCSC Energy Analyst, supplies Finder with information regarding water usage on campus. She has concluded that every cubic foot of water used costs approximately 10 cents.

Finder received initial help getting the word out about her project from Silas Snyder, the Safety, Training and Resource Conservation Coordinator. Snyder helped Finder to connect with Gabriela Alaniz, the Coordinator for Residential Education (CRE) for Merrill.

Alaniz asked Residential Advisors in Crown and Merrill to do the footwork of distributing the bills, creating an opportunity for the apartment residents to learn about their water consumption.

“I want to help out and share this information. In Santa Cruz, you see stickers in the bathroom telling you to conserve. Having enough water is a serious problem here,” Finder said.

Growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, Finder noticed that many residents did not focus on environmental awareness and saw little encouragement of conservation.

“I learned to be very conscious about water usage and recycling from my parents,” Finder said. “After talking to many of my peers, it was clear that not everyone knew about the importance [of these things]. I remember people would ask if we had to recycle, and I would say ‘Yeah! We have to!’ I was very surprised.”

Finder anticipates that many students will be persuaded to conserve when they receive the bills.

“I would like this to eventually reach all corners of campus, maybe even in the dorms,” Finder said. “I am envisioning this to be a regular thing.”

Finder is hoping to find other committees or interest groups focusing on sustainability and water conservation, such as the Green Campus Program (GCP), to help the distribution of mock water bills become a standard practice on campus.

So far, Alaniz said, Finder has been successful in achieving her goals. “Sarah has been doing an impressive job. Getting something done takes perseverance. I feel like this is a different way of educating students instead of just giving out tips,” Alaniz said. “It teaches that water is an important source in the country and it allows students who live on campus to see what it is like to be responsible for a bill and collecting money.”

Finder has high hopes for the project.

“Nothing is impossible,” she said. “People want to help students out. If you have a good idea, start talking.”