Whether you’re playing Frisbee in Mid-Quad or attending “Scream on the Green” at the lawn outside of Kravis, you will feel something most Californians have not felt in a while. You will feel the lush, wet grass underneath your feet. Living at CMC, it is nearly impossible to tell that California is experiencing its worst drought in almost a thousand years. Our little bubble allows us to enjoy the cool water of the fountains during the day, and watch our friends freeze when we pond them at night. If it weren’t for the news, few people in the Claremont bubble would know that the drought is a big deal—such a big deal, in fact, that California is expected to lose $2.2 billion in annual state revenue from agricultural losses.
As I previously reported, the College administration is not oblivious to the fact that we need to do more to address the drought. However, the problem with the school response is that it is too little, and far too late. Until very recently, CMC students had to skip over rivers of water created by the sprinklers that are meant to water the grass. The facilities department repositioned these sprinklers in October 2014, ten months after the drought reached severity, and over a year after an on-campus organization, Sustainable Students Promoting Environmental Action and Responsibility (SSPEAR) gave it photos of over-watered locations.
While CMC has replaced some plants with drought-resistant varieties, our campus is almost unnaturally green. In a previous interview with the Forum, CMC’s Director of Facilities, Brian Worley, said that “dead grass is not part of CMC’s current campus aesthetic.” Such a statement is telling of the administration’s attitude towards the drought. As a responsible community which strives to develop leaders in all walks of life, should CMC really value its appearance over water use? While CMC sells itself as a well-manicured, verdant campus on its brochures, it might be time for us to change our appeal. We must remember that CMC is located in the Inland Empire, which is essentially a desert. Pitzer’s campus, which is more in line with the natural landscape of the Inland Empire, would be a good point of reference. Populated with numerous varieties of cacti and low-maintenance shrubbery, Pitzer embodies the natural environment of the Inland Empire while also managing to look visually appealing.
Just as dead grass does not seem to be a part of our campus aesthetic, water conservation does not seem to be a part of our drought response. Students have been calling for the sprinklers that consistently water the sidewalks to be changed or moved for years, pleas that apparently fell on deaf ears for a long time. Once the administration decided to change the sprinklers, the actual change was made in under a week. While our slightly drier sidewalks are a small victory, one should note that the sprinklers are still running in order to keep our lovely, improbably green grass alive no matter the consequences.
There are still other problems; the fountains in Flamson Plaza and outside Bauer Center continue to operate. While these fountains might be central to many CMC traditions like sunbathing and ponding our friends, they should be turned off. Not only will CMC be saving a lot of water by implementing such a measure, but the administration would be sending a strong message of solidarity in light of the drought. Turning off the fountains will demonstrate that the drought matters, and that CMC is sacrificing a feature central to its campus life in order to help combat the drought. Such a move has been implemented by other campuses in the state. Stanford University turned off all its fountains in March to highlight the drought.
Another contentious issue is the lack of transparency when it comes to the drought response. The CMC website does not have a single page dedicated to our sustainability efforts, let alone to drought response. How are students supposed to know about CMC’s conservation or drought response efforts? Do we all need to email the Facilities department to access information that should readily be available to us? Pomona College seems to be more generous when it comes to disseminating information on their environmental and drought-response efforts. Not only do they have a page dedicated to their water efforts, but they also have a master-page for all of their sustainability efforts. In today’s age, where information is empowerment, CMC students are provided with alarmingly limited amounts of information regarding campus sustainability measures.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the responsibility Claremont McKenna College has to its community and its students. While we may have the resources to continue with our current choices, we must respond to the drought with an increased vigor. By doing this, the administration would be instilling a necessary sense of environmental responsibility in the student body.