Water Wise

by Vaidehi Campbell '00

Vaidehi Campbell

What began as an internship while I was a student at Scripps turned into a full-time job.

I recently celebrated my 10th year as the Water Conservation Education and Geographic Information System (GIS) coordinator at Soquel Creek Water District in Santa Cruz County.

As an intern, I linked and recorded flow and pressure data and mapped the area’s fire hydrants. Now, I split my time between maintaining and developing the GIS and promoting water conservation. I make many presentations to school groups and the public about the water system, our community’s groundwater supplies, and how to be water-wise.

It’s an ever-present challenge to find the best approach to promote and present water conservation incentives, and to change water customers’ habits in the interest of protecting the groundwater aquifers from seawater intrusion. The local aquifers from which the Soquel Creek Water District draws from have been over drafted for many years, and chlorides have increased over time in the coastal monitoring wells.

My coworkers and I continuously develop ways to incentivize water conservation through rebate programs that encourage fixture, toilet, and washer upgrades. We also provide education for consumers by introducing alternative landscaping practices, such as incorporating drought-tolerant plants in gardens. This was another dry year in California, so voluntary water conservation measures are being promoted throughout the summer and policy enforcement has begun.

My interest in water conservation, education, and mapping began in high school when California was in a serious drought and water restrictions were imposed by the City of Santa Cruz, as well as statewide. We changed our habits, and environmental education and stewardship was reinforced in several of my classes.

At Scripps, the classes I took and personal experiences I gained directly helped prepare me for the work I do today. My awareness of people’s water-use habits was certainly broadened when I moved into the residence hall; there’s no other place like a woman’s dorm, where you can nonchalantly observe how long students take in the shower, or how many students leave the faucet on while brushing their teeth. One of the reasons I joined hall council as the environmental representative was the opportunity to bring some water-use awareness and a conservation ethic to the hall.

After taking several classes in the Joint Science Department (now W.M. Keck Science Department) and Pitzer College, I honed in on the water resource management track. Through my environmental studies degree, I learned about the complex water systems of California and the world, the effects of overdraft on aquifers, and over use of rivers and reservoirs. The question of how land and its resources are managed brought me to the study of GIS mapping, watershed protection, and policy creation.

Courses I took with Dr. Emil Morhardt in GIS provided me with the conceptual basis to further study the question of boundaries and water management. Another course on water resources provided me the opportunity to work on a research project at a local water district where I was invited to attend a Project Water Education for Teachers (WET) workshop. Last February, I facilitated my 12th annual Project WET workshop for local teachers.

After my water district internship, I was fortunate enough to study ecology and conservation in Madagascar during a semester abroad my senior year. What a water wakeup call that was! If running water was available, there was rarely hot water. Long showers were not the norm. I researched watershed protection, the local water system, and the complications of providing running water to people in rural communities with little to no money.

I encourage current Scripps students in environmental studies to take advantage of the GIS resources in the area, and to take at least one GIS class. This is a growing industry that will lead to many great opportunities. Study abroad exposes you to another country’s environment and way of life. And internships can lead to jobs—my career is proof of that.