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Reaching Water Independence

Parents of the Class of 2017 step up to help Thacher tackle a critical initiative.
Heading in or out of the Ojai Valley along the serpentine Casitas Pass Road in the early fall of 2016, drivers witnessed a stark sight: Lake Casitas, sucked down to perilously low levels that were obvious to even an unfamiliar eye. Lake Casitas—the primary water source for much of Ventura County—was at just 35.2 percent of capacity. And though we just experienced a mercifully wet winter after years of drought, the reservoir has risen to 36.7 percent capacity—up a mere 1.5 percentage points.

Of course, water is naturally scarce in the chaparral country of the Ojai Valley. The historical record shows long stretches of drought in the past, and there’s no reason to expect that the current drought will be our last. Our location compels us to be exceptionally wise with water.

A group of parents of the class of 2017 had exactly this in mind when they came to Head of School Michael Mulligan and the board of trustees with a question. Was there a way that they and the rest of the parents of the class of 2017 could help the School increase its water independence and security—an initiative that they knew was critically important?

After thorough research, reflection, and discussion, the board and members of its buildings and grounds team identified three promising initiatives that would save millions of gallons of water annually—potentially more than 40 percent of Thacher’s current annual water use. Perhaps more importantly, this plan could enable the School to produce its own potable water, which—combined with the new solar field—would bring Thacher closer to self-sufficiency with respect to water and power.

Measure, monitor, and manage.
The first step was to continue to build Thacher’s capacity to measure, monitor, and manage all of our potable and non-potable water sources. An additional 40 controllers and 30 smart meters were recently installed to enable us to control and monitor Thacher’s complex potable and irrigation systems, which could save up to 3.6 million gallons of irrigation water a year through greater reductions in potable water use, identification of leaks, recognition of rainfall and greywater use, and reductions in irrigation.

Secure a safe, reliable, long-term source of potable water.
We currently source our potable water from Lake Casitas and Senior Canyon. Thacher hopes to develop a way to become as self-sufficient as possible to ensure that we can continue to fulfill our mission, regardless of drought conditions. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to convert the well that currently supplies water to our Horse Program to a well that supplies all of Thacher’s potable water needs (approximately 3 million gallons/year). It's a reliable producer and throughout the current drought has not had reduced flow. The plan is to install a new liner, grout, and take steps to make the well sanitary per state and county standards.

Reuse Upper Field irrigation water & WWTP effluent.
Our new athletic field is designed in a manner that allows us to collect and store water accumulated during rain and irrigation. We hope to add the capacity to capture runoff from the monthly field draining and add filters and aeration so that we can reuse the water to irrigate Upper Field. To achieve these, we’ll purchase and install two very large tanks, add a pumping station, and install an aeration capacity. We estimate that this will reduce water needs by approximately 1.2 million gallons/year, if not more. Additionally, thanks to gravity, we can use this same system and water to irrigate the baseball and football fields on our Lower Field.

Best of all, each water initiative will be an opportunity to engage our students in a multidimensional, applied-learning experience. Just as we integrated our solar array into statistics, environmental science, and computer programming classes, we’ll incorporate our water management systems into our curriculum.

Learn more about Thacher’s plan for water conservation.
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A coeducational college preparatory boarding high school
The Thacher School