As part of a new curriculum this year Bard Center for Environmental Policy created a two week long January class called J-term. This term would allow students to focus on one of three different areas of study, either land trusts, biochar, or water management. Oh and did I mention the water management class would be in Oaxaca, Mexico. Beautiful, sunny, not upstate New York in January, Mexico. I signed up for the water management class not quite sure what to expect, but ready to learn more about a subject that I had little knowledge about.
Fast forward to Oaxaca and there was a change in behavior that took place during the first week. We grew accustomed to things that seemed strange to us only days ago, don’t flush your toilet paper, don’t drink out of the tap, speak Spanish, and stop to buy bottled water often. This last part took some getting used to. Six graduate students who were getting their masters in environmental policy, driving around Oaxaca slugging water out of plastic bottles, could be found next to the definition of hypocrisy in a dictionary. However, that aside, we were there to learn, not get sick (one of our group did), and hopefully come away with a more profound understanding and appreciation of one of the most basic needs on the planet, water.
The people of Oaxaca have a system of Garrafones (5 gallon water jugs) that are transported in pickups around the city to all the families of Oaxaca. They have to do this because the surface water that they get comes from dirty sources, is not cleaned well enough, gets transported through dirty leaking pipes, and then spat out of their faucet. This practice of Garrafones is inconvenient, time consuming, tiring (those jugs are heavy), and unsustainable. Unfortunately though they are completely necessary in the region due to the current lack of available drinking water.
Arriving back at Bard College I was confronted with the exact opposite situation. Here at Bard we are blessed with water that is clean, plentiful and treated on campus at a state of the art treatment plant. And yet we purchase more water, bottled miles away, that is held to lower quality standards than the water we get from the Sawkill Creek. These bottled water coolers are environmentally wasteful, economically wasteful, and are providing us with lower quality water than we currently have.
At the office of Sustainability, working with other offices and concerned individuals, we are pushing for a removal of these bottled water coolers that are sprinkled around campus. We are making an effort to find common ground between removing the convenience of having a water cooler, and sending people to the bathroom every time they want a drink of water. With this in mind we have decided to test the possibility of using in-line water filtration systems. There will be one located in the dining hall for a testing period starting sometime next week (please go try it and fill out a survey card).
What this new machine will do is take water straight out of our pipes, put it through a filtering system (removing any sediments or chlorine taste), add certain nutrients back in, then through a cooler or heater, and put it out into your cup/mug/reusable water bottle. This will help us save money, utilize our local resources that many of us (including me) take for granted, and will put Bard back in control of its water.
However, we can only move forward with this plan to eliminate bottled water coolers on campus if there is popular support. So please try out the filtration system in the dining hall, and if you genuinely like it, let us know. If you hate it let us know, if you would give up your water cooler even without getting this replacement let us know. If I did a terrible job explaining what we are trying to do with the water coolers, let us know (preferably me before my boss but whatever works). We would love your feedback, and more importantly, we need your feedback to move forward with making Bard a more sustainable college.
Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more info on water coolers and other projects we are working on around campus!