Stewards of Our Resources - Casa de Piedra Water Conservation Efforts Grow

As is the case in many places throughout the Southwestern United States and around the world, water conservation is an imperative in the Ojai Valley, where we remain in a Stage 3 water shortage. The U.S. Drought Monitor has classified nearly all of California in "severe" drought or worse, and most of Ventura County has been dubbed “extreme," the second most severe designation among the five federal drought classifications. Much of the county has access to imported water, but surface water supplies for the Ojai Valley and parts of Ventura come from Lake Casitas, which depends on rainfall and river runoff.

While water conservation has long been a focus of the School’s sustainability efforts, additional initiatives in recent years, including low-flow devices in dorms and faculty homes, upgraded irrigation systems, selective watering, and the use of greywater from our dormitory laundry machines to irrigate trees (saving up to 550,000 gallons of water annually), have led to a 40% reduction since 2014. And we’re not stopping there.

Field of Dreams

In May of 2022, just as students and faculty were wrapping up the school year, an exciting project kicked off on campus. New Field, as it’s been known since it was installed in 2006, was about to get even newer. Thanks to a generous donation and the hard work of a number of community members and friends, the School replaced the grass ground cover with an Ironturf synthetic woven system. Even with the water cooling system designed to reduce ground temperatures 20-30 degrees, the turf and rubber/sand infill conserve a significant amount of water. “Depending on the year, this work will save us 8-12M gallons of water,” said Ed Bennett, director of facilities at Thacher.

Turf has also been installed in the Lower School dorm courtyard, saving ½ million gallons of water annually, and will also be added soon to the Casa Knoll.

Seeds of Sustainability

Another significant water-saving measure was the removal of 8.5 acres of non- productive avocado trees from the Thacher campus. While it is a priority for the School to support the growth and maintenance of local flora, these trees were using approximately 13 million gallons of water per year and not yielding any financial return for the School. Their presence, which monopolized 4% of the entire Senior Canyon Mutual Water Company (Ojai’s East End water provider) was also impacting our broader Ojai community.

“This water reduction not only impacts Thacher, but also the entire East End community,” said Bennett. “As stewards of our environment, good neighbors, and a School committed to not only living for our own greatest good but for the good of our fellow citizens, this was the right decision to make.”

Almost 3.5 acres of avocados and mature oaks remain, providing screening and shaded habitat for wildlife.

Kahle Arena Goes Green

The summer of 2022 also brought with it new footing for the Kahle Arena, adjacent to the Friendship Barn. The old, broken- down sand was replaced with a product called Arena Green, a mix of recycled glass, vegetable oil, and a bonding agent.
Because it is made of entirely organic material, Arena Green is suitable for horses and good for the environment. It requires nothing to be added and sits directly on the arena base, making it cost-effective, completely dust-free, and waterless.

“I estimate this will save approximately 100,000 gallons of water annually,” said Jeff Seely, Assistant Director of the Horse Program.

Saving for a (Not) Rainy Day

In 2016, Thacher received a generous grant from Sierra Watershed, allowing the School to host a greywater workshop for 30 technicians from all over California. This work led to the design and installation of a 5,000-gallon rainwater harvesting system for one of the barn roofs and a catchment system added to the Los Padres sophomore boys dorm.

Building on this foundation, the School plans to install rainwater harvesting systems on every Horse Program area roof, which, in addition to capturing water for the horses, will also improve stream flow water quality.
Ongoing water conservation efforts such as these will continue in the coming years as the School works to not only make immediate and tangible reductions, but also to ensure its long-term sustainability and responsibility. By banking water savings—our current balance sits around 57 acre-feet—we can help to offset future projects that will allow us to pick and choose wisely where our water usage is best spent.

“Our goal is to always uphold the beauty of our natural environment, while making decisions that improve wildfire survivability and support the water security of the School and our broader Ojai community long into the future,” said Bennett.

Stewards of Our Resources is an excerpt from the Fall/Winter edition of Thacher Magazine, digitally available on Issuu. 

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Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.