Lewis & Clark prides itself on being environmentally friendly, but students do not always embrace this in their everyday lives, particularly in terms of their water waste. Coming from California, where I grew up taking as many measures as we could to offset droughts, I was shocked to see students taking hour-long showers and leaving the water running while brushing teeth or scrubbing dishes.
Since Portland is known for being such a rainy city, it does not cross many people’s minds to make an effort to conserve water here. However, Oregon’s Water Resources Department details that over half the state is currently in severe to exceptional drought. Even if we do not see effects in our own city, we need to be aware of the greater environmental context. Additionally, due to climate change, the Pacific Northwest as a whole is trending towards hotter and drier weather, rendering water conservation more important than ever.
Many other colleges have installed water-saving methods in their dormitories, despite being in places with high amounts of rainfall. Wellesley College introduced inexpensive hourglasses which suction on shower walls to encourage students to shorten their showers. This is in a city that gets 49 inches of rain on average annually, in contrast to Portland’s 43. Tufts University in Boston, which is roughly equal to Portland’s precipitation levels, has taken it a step further. They installed the Uji brand shower head in dormitories, which has a light that changes from green to red after seven minutes of the water running.
LC has also made efforts to be environmentally conscious, it is just that this effort does not extend over the whole campus. J.R. Howard Hall and Edna Holmes Hall are LEED certified, which refers to “architecture that minimizes use of natural resources, energy, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants and maximizes use of recycled materials,” according to LC’s website. However, many buildings, particularly residence halls that have not been recently remodeled, lack conservation efforts.
In the wake of one huge construction undertaking and in the middle of another, I do not propose that LC necessarily remodel all the dorms. They could take point from other colleges that have taken small, but impactful steps. It does not even have to be as expensive as installing brand new Uji shower heads; a simple stick-on timer would make a big difference. Wellesley College calculates the cost of their timers as only $2.19 each.
It is understandable that people need different lengths of time to thoroughly wash themselves in a shower, but when people spend excessive amounts of time using the shower to relax, it has large-scale effects. Students might think that it does not matter how long they shower because they are not paying for a fluctuating water bill, but water waste is not the only harmful byproduct. Since it takes electricity to heat the water, it is a strain on energy as well.
According to calculation metrics by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one person who showers daily cutting their shower time by five minutes would save 73 gallons of water a week. Using data from Fall 2021 on LC’s number of students living on campus, if every student cut five minutes from their daily shower, this campus would save over 100,000 gallons a week.
I understand that many students use showering as a way to relax, but there are far less wasteful ways to take a breather at the end of a long day. LC was ranked the number one green college in the country by Princeton in 2015, and our law school’s environmental law program was ranked number one in the country by the US News and World Report. With standards like these, we cannot allow wasteful practices to be habits.
We can do better. It is not only the responsibility of the students, but also of the administration to take steps to encourage and facilitate water-saving methods on campus.