On March 17, 2015, the State of California declared the current drought to have reached an emergency level. Governor Jerry Brown announced new water regulations, requiring that all households in the state reduce water usage by 25%. In addition, all citizens must comply with five new prohibitions on water usage. According to the California Water Boards website, these prohibitions include: “Using potable water to wash sidewalks and driveways, runoff when irrigating with potable water, using hoses with no shutoff nozzles to wash cars, using potable water in decorative water features that do not recirculate the water and using outdoor irrigation during and 48 hours following measurable precipitation.” New restrictions for businesses include restaurants and cafes only serving water if requested by a customer, and hotels and motels must give guests the option of not having sheets and towels laundered.
The new water restrictions have drawn a lot of attention specifically to how local homeowners and business are looking to cope with the cuts, from letting lawns dry up to washing dishes with grey water. What’s often been absent from discussion, though, is how schools are looking to reduce water usage. At Lick-Wilmerding, nearly 600 of us contribute to daily water usage, but much of it—washing dishes, preparing food, general facilities and maintenance—remains out of our sight. The water usage in the kitchen is especially high, and so the Paper Tiger talked to Solana Diaz, the Director of Food Services, about what reductions in the kitchen will look like.
Diaz explained that water usage in the kitchen goes primarily into washing the hundreds of bowls, plates, and utensils used by Lick-Wilmerding students, employees and visitors each day. While water use has been reduced in this area over the past few years (the caf no longer supplies students with plastic cups for water), dirty dishes still pile up from breakfast through lunch. Washing produce accounts for the second greatest area of water usage; the third greatest is the ice which fills the salad bar.
The kitchen staff has started looking for areas to reduce current water usage, but this poses a great challenge, as there is no way to avoid washing dishes for over 500 people each day. The school is looking into purchasing a refrigerated salad bar, which would likely reduce water usage. Diaz is also looking into the potential for replacing the current dishwasher with a more efficient one. Washing produce will be a difficult area to reduce water usage, since the school can’t simply stop cleaning the food we eat. In terms of food itself, the kitchen won’t be offering any fewer produce options, but Diaz has been trying to order more pre-washed organic greens for the salad bar.
Though Diaz has not yet made any menu changes because of the drought, she anticipates changes in the future. “The drought will and is having a tremendous impact on agriculture in California,” Diaz explained. “That will be quite evident in the beginning of the school year next year, during the warmer months.”
In the meantime, Lick students can help contribute to water reductions in the kitchen by fully scraping their plates and bowls free of food before placing them in the black tubs to be washed. This allows the dishwasher to use less water in the rinsing process, and although it may seem like a small action it can have a large impact.