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Foothill Wins Award for Water Conservation Projects

Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting, Water-Recapture Technology Applauded

Award ceremonyThe Foothill College environmental horticulture and design program has been named recipient of a 2015 Silicon Valley Water Conservation Award for innovative instruction and conservation projects, which were made possible with funding from the Schmidt Family Foundation and 11th Hour Project. Foothill College representatives were recently presented with an award plaque at the organization’s annual awards ceremony.

“I am incredibly proud of such a timely award given the exacerbated drought conditions in California,” said Foothill College President Judy C. Miner, Ed.D. “We could not have accomplished our conservation efforts without the expertise of Dan Svenson from Foothill’s environmental horticulture program and the advocacy of donor Kathleen Santora, who championed our cause with the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation. This is an excellent example of Foothill College addressing a critical need through a strategic partnership.”

Judges said they were impressed with three conservation projects developed and implemented at Foothill and used in the college’s popular environmental horticulture and design program. The award-winning projects include installation of a water recapture system and rainwater harvesting technology, as well as creation of a replication model for use by other colleges and building sites. In addition to their use in Foothill’s instructional curriculum, the water recapture and rainwater harvesting projects together save the college an estimated 110,000 gallons annually.

Water-Recapture System—Using $30,000 in grant funds and donations, the environmental horticulture department teamed up with Foothill-De Anza Community College District facilities personnel to design and install three 780-gallon tanks that hold more than 2,300 gallons of water. The system captures water from campus cooling towers, which provide air conditioning to the campus, and redirects it to supplement the campuswide irrigation system.

The water recapture project now saves the Foothill-De Anza district approximately 50,000 gallons of water annually. In addition to showcasing technology, the project has successfully demonstrated that water from cooling towers can be recaptured and reused for irrigation. Foothill College leaders are working toward the goal of making the campus irrigation rely only on recaptured water and well water.

Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting—For this project, Foothill students, faculty, staff and college district personnel tested the feasibility of harvesting rainwater from the rooftops of the environmental horticulture program’s nursery propagation and construction buildings. Today, half of all water that lands on the horticulture construction lab buildings’ rooftops is captured and directed into underground storage tanks, which hold 1,800 gallons. The harvested water feeds the department’s recirculating stream, which is used to teach design and conservation lessons to students enrolled Foothill’s landscape design courses.

The project also included installation of three 2,500-gallon storage tanks that provide supplemental water to the horticulture program’s nursery. An additional storage tank that holds more than 600 gallons was installed to teach students how homeowners and small businesses can harvest rainwater on a small scale by using small tanks that fit unobtrusively into the landscape. The rainwater capture systems have resulted in harvests of an estimated 60,000 gallons.

“As an instructor, it is imperative for me to teach effective water conservation and recapture methods to my students, who will soon be Silicon Valley landscape designers, landscape contractors and green industry professionals,” says Foothill College Environmental Horticulture & Design Program Instructor Dan Svenson. “To find successful employment in this industry, students must be able to create and maintain sustainable landscapes. The addition of the water-saving projects in our curriculum translates into better education and training for our students as they prepare to enter the workforce.”

Replication Model—In addition to saving thousands of gallons of water, the projects can be replicated at other colleges. With minimal costs, other schools can implement similar water-conservation technology and techniques. Representatives from other educational institutions have visited the Foothill campus to learn more about the water recapture and rooftop rain-harvesting technology.

Funding for the projects came largely from private donations from Los Altos Hills residents Mark and Kathleen Santora, the Schmidt Family Foundation and the 11th Hour Project. A private foundation created by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, the Schmidt Family Foundation is committed to environmental preservation and education, as well as funding innovative programs that promote the responsible use of natural resources. The foundation also operates the 11th Hour Project, which works to increase awareness about climate change and renewable energy sources.

The Silicon Valley water conservation awards are presented annually to organizations, agencies, businesses and individuals whose programs and leadership have advanced water conservation in Silicon Valley. The awards are presented by the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Coalition, including Acterra, Bay Area Water Supply & Conservation Agency, City of Palo Alto utilities, Committee for Green Foothills, GreenTown Los Altos, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, San Jose Municipal Water System, Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter, Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Sustainable San Mateo County, Sustainable Silicon Valley and Tuolumne River Trust.

For more information about the Foothill College environmental horticulture and design program and its award-winning water-conservation efforts, call or e-mail Dan Svenson at (650) 949-7402 or SvensonDaniel@foothill.edu.

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Updated July 28, 2015