LCC offers water conservation program.
Lane Community College is getting its feet wet in another emerging career field that comes with a green payoff.
After breaking new ground with its energy management program several years ago, the college now is wading into the field of water conservation management. The LCC board recently approved a new associate's degree program in the field, and after expected state approval early next year the college hopes to begin offering a two-year water conservation technician program.
And even though it doesn't formally exist yet, the program already has its first demonstration project: a rainwater harvesting system recently installed on an LCC greenhouse. The system, put together by students in the energy management program, will collect water off the greenhouse roof and funnel it into a 1,550-gallon storage tank for use on a student-run vegetable garden.
Tammie Stark, a water conservation and sustainability instructor in the energy program, coordinated the project and spearheaded the team that put together the stand-alone water conservation program proposal. Stark said rainwater harvesting is a relatively easy way for people to reduce their resource footprint and maybe lower their utility bill at the same time.
"It's really an empowering thing to do," she said. "And it's something that's done around the world as an everyday practice."
Rainwater harvesting will be just one of the techniques students will learn about in the water conservation program, which will prepare students for jobs helping people and companies find ways to conserve and more efficiently use a vital resource. Similar to the energy management program, students will be able to conduct water audits, identify waste and recommend ways to reduce water use. They'll also qualify for a professional certificate from the American Waterworks Association in addition to an associate of applied science degree.
Stark also sees the degree as part of a growing cluster of programs that could make LCC a leader in green education and promote Eugene as a center for clean technology. The college could eventually offer its programs at other community colleges around the state and the country through distance learning arrangements.
"It could really help create a clean technology industry surge," she said. "We have such an amazing place here."
Stark hopes the program will draw about 20 students a year to start and be able to produce about 25 graduates a year within a few years. Always budget-challenged, LCC isn't able to provide general fund support for the program so it gets by on grants and donations from EWEB, the American Waterworks Association and individuals.
Although the rainy Willamette Valley might seem an odd place to give birth to a water conservation course, Stark said there's no place that can afford to waste water. Population growth, retiring baby boomers, climate change and resource pressure make efficient water use worthwhile even here.
Right now, EWEB customers can use as much as 65 million gallons of water a day during peak summer periods. More people recycling water for yards and irrigation - rainwater is not potable and needs to be treated to be suitable for drinking - could save millions in infrastructure expansion needs.
"Water is one of our most precious natural resources," she said.
The rainwater harvesting system was built as part of a sustainability class for energy management students. The garden it will irrigate, called the Learning Garden, is a student project that provides organic fruit and vegetables to the LCC food service department and culinary program.
Kris Elsbree, a renewable energy student, said using reclaimed rainwater is a natural for the Learning Garden, which already uses leaf mulch from campus grounds and compost from kitchen scraps.
"The whole process of filtering water and pumping it where it needs to go is pretty extravagant," he said. "That's a lot of embedded energy. If we can use water that falls right here, that's a lot simpler."
Andy Kuss, one of the energy management students who helped assemble the rainwater system, said it showed him how easy it is to reduce resource use.
"This has been awesome because I didn't know the first thing about water catchment systems," he said. "But you can figure this out. The last thing I want is a lawn you have to use (piped) water on to keep green."