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Drought Response Best Practices and Resources


On April 1, 2015 Governor Brown issued Executive Order B-29-15 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF). Key provisions include ordering the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to impose restrictions to achieve an overall 25 percent reduction in potable urban water usage, as measured from use in 2013, for all commercial, industrial, and institution uses (including schools) through February 28, 2016.

The SWRCB adopted emergency regulations on May 5, 2015, identifying the reductions required for each water purveyor. Additional information regarding the reductions required may be found on the State Water Resources Control Board Website External link opens in new window or tab.. Urban water suppliers and regulatory framework tiers to achieve 25 percent use reduction may be found on the Water Resources Control Board Programs Website External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

What Can Schools Do?

The following are strategies that school districts can consider to reduce their water usage. This list is not exhaustive and each district should evaluate a strategy based on the district's climate, existing conditions, and water reduction efforts already completed. Typically, the majority of water use is for irrigation of landscaping and playfields, so a focus on outdoor areas may yield the largest savings.

Outdoor Best Practices
  • Contact your water purveyor(s) to discuss available programs and assistance that may be available. Many purveyors offer grants and rebates to help implement water conservation projects, as well as water audits, and assistance in developing lower water use landscaping. There may also be partnership opportunities, such as with local parks and recreation districts, to help with initial costs of water conservation projects.
  • Benchmark existing water use prior to making changes in order to determine how effective the various measures were.
  • Establish priorities for your water conservation efforts. Map which portions of your site must be irrigated for programmatic uses. Be aware that playfields need to be watered continually to maintain student safety (especially during summer) as dry, hard ground produces more injuries.
  • Repair and adjust irrigation systems. Install valves to shut off laterals that feed low priority areas. Cap or plug sprinkler heads when possible. Retrofit with new low-flow sprinkler heads.
  • Use an irrigation management and moisture sensor to target watering of fields.
  • Aerate soil in turf fields.
  • Plan for groundwater recharge to meet future needs:
    • Install permeable pavement to allow groundwater recharge and reduce storm water runoff.
    • Implement low-impact development practices, such as bio-retention areas and swales, to improve both storm water management and the natural hydrology of the site.
  • Use native or drought tolerant planting whenever possible, especially in ornamental areas.
  • Consider the need for a separate watering system in order to maintain canopy trees, which helps to reduce heat and soil evaporation.
  • Install mulch around trees, shrubs, and bedding plants, three to four inches deep (be aware of the potential for pests in mulch when placing near buildings).
  • Water during the early parts of the day or after sunset; avoid watering when it is windy.
  • Provide irrigation for trees to maintain health.
  • Water plants for a longer time period, less frequently. The plants develop deeper roots and can manage drought better.
  • Consider field-use adjustments and consolidations to minimize irrigation needs.
  • Allow the grass to grow longer, especially in the summer (mow less often, or set the mower blades higher, e.g. three inches).
  • Plant grass species that require less water (e.g. switch from blue/rye to hybrid bermuda).
  • Adjust fertilizers during warmer months to optimize plant health.
  • When using a hose, always use a nozzle that can shut off the water flow.
  • Create a public Website and hotline to allow the community to report broken sprinklers.
  • Adjust staffing and communications so reported leaks are addressed within a certain time frame (e.g. within 24 hours).
  • Install a pool cover on outdoor school swimming pools. Uncovered pools can lose 1,000 gallons per month or more to evaporation.
  • Contact your city/county waste water treatment agency about availability of gray water from their waste water treatment system for use in landscaping.
  • Consider installing multiple water meters on a school site so that landscape use can be separated from building use. Or even one additional meter to separate program required playfields, from ornamental landscaping areas.
Building Best Practices
  • Install higher accuracy automatic flush toilets if restrooms have automatic flush equipment.
  • Replace older plumbing fixtures with newer, water efficient fixtures.
  • Replace sink aerators, shower heads, and other fittings with lower-flow fittings.
  • Use metered or optical-sensor faucets to reduce water use.
  • Consider using waterless urinals.
  • Create a proactive leak-detection program.
  • Install instant water heaters to reduce water waste while waiting for the water to heat up.
  • Consider using gray water or recycled water systems (purple pipe) for toilets and landscaping needs.
    • Review and, if necessary, replace the soaps/detergents to ensure that they are not damaging to plants.
Communication Best Practices

California is experiencing the worst drought in the state's recorded history. The current snowpack is five percent of the average. It is critical that all Californians do their part to conserve water. Schools are in a unique position as centers of community, and as educational institutions, to lead by example and to educate the public on what can be done to stretch the supply of water until the drought ends. It is important that districts inform the public that school fields are key educational and community resources, and as such, need to be maintained to a minimum safety standard. Clear communication with staff, students, and the public are crucial. Successful communication strategies may include press releases, op-ed articles, periodic reports that advise the public of the activities underway, and the celebration of successes of water and money saved.

Placing signs on landscaped areas not being maintained will help to inform the public of the District's water conservation efforts and to assure the public that the physical education program and community use of fields are still being met.

Additional collateral resources and information may be found on Save Our Water Website External link opens in new window or tab..

Incorporate into Curriculum

Water conservation can also be integrated into many aspects of curriculum. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson identified resources to help teachers incorporate water conservation into the curriculum in his March 25, 2014 letter to school principals.

Additional Resources

In addition to contacting your local water purveyor(s), the following links provide additional information and strategies on water conservation.

The Division of State Architect has created an infographic External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) as a water conservation resource for schools and community colleges to share with students, staff, landscapers, and janitorial crews.

The California Conservation Corps (CCC) External link opens in new window or tab. has several crews trained to assist with water conservation work, including installation of new irrigation systems and turf removal for state and local agencies.

A program available through the CCC is the Watershed Stewards Program External link opens in new window or tab..

Drought Care for Trees

The Sacramento Tree Foundation Community have developed Tips for Tree Care During Drought External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) which discusses watering techniques, tree care information, and simple actions that can be taken to keep trees healthy.

The California Department of Education invites all schools and districts to share best practices on Twitter using the hashtag #WaterWiseSchools External link opens in new window or tab..

Questions:   Diane Waters | dwaters@cde.ca.gov | 916-327-2884
Last Reviewed: Thursday, December 21, 2017