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Some Ashland High School students want to see the district and city use gray water to alleviate water issues

Ashland High School students, left to right, Gabriel Hernandez, Isadora Millay and Asriel Maycann propose using gray water for irrigation and other uses to conserve Ashland’s water. [Photo by Denise Baratta]

At a time when people her age are learning to drive or own a bank account, Ashland High School student Isadora Millay is focusing on more pressing issues, like climate change and its effects on her.

“I’m not even sure I’m going to live to be 70 unless everyone starts working and making a change to protect our environment,” Millay said in an interview from his home last weekend.

Millay, who leads the newly formed Youth Advisory Council for the Mayor of Ashland, is doing his part. She and several other members of the group proposed that the city and school district start using recycled or gray water, which they believe are environmentally friendly approaches that could save water and reduce utility costs. exploitation.

“Drought is a really serious thing, and with climate change the way it is, it’s only going to get worse unless we make the change to start conserving water and taking better care of our Earth. “, said Millay. “Greywater is something that when we were researching, we found it to be a very real way to fight drought, help our environment, and address the effects of climate change.”

Millay and Youth Advisory Council members Gabe Hernandez and Asriel Maycann believe their proposal is feasible based on relevant state and federal funding sources and the fact that cities from Eugene to Naples, Florida have set up recycled water systems.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality defines “grey water” as wastewater from showers and tubs, bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks, and washing machines. Greywater cannot come from certain sources that may produce contaminated water, including toilets, dishwashers, or garbage disposals, or sewage contaminated with soiled diapers.

“It’s basically second-hand water,” Millay said.

The DEQ, which oversees permits for gray water systems, said this water can be ‘safely reused for flushing toilets and urinals as well as irrigating certain trees and plants’ .

“Greywater reuse reduces the demand for other water sources, such as drinking water, surface water and groundwater,” the agency states online.

Toilet flushing and landscape maintenance is exactly how the youth council members envision the school district using gray water.

“For a more confined feature or building, it makes sense that a gray water system would be best because you’re recycling the water that’s made in that building for use around it,” Millay said.

In a presentation to the Ashland School Board earlier this month, students estimated the district could save at least 2,520 gallons of water per day, or 919,800 gallons of water per year, if it implements a gray water system.

And even if the district used gray water just for toilet flushing, it could save $8,320 a year, they said.

The students said that a gray water irrigation system could be achieved via an outdoor sprinkler system or an underground drip system. But the type of system used depends on how much treatment the water would undergo before being used, according to Millay.

Maycann thinks a greywater irrigation system would benefit schoolyards in several ways.

“Conserving water through this system, in general, could help replenish the dry zone and help plants regrow,” he said.

Hernandez, who is an athlete from Ashland High School, said the field he plays on hasn’t been watered in a while because the district is trying to conserve water during fire season.

“Right now, every time we play on the court, you can slip a lot, which usually doesn’t happen,” Hernandez said. “So having gray water would maintain those facilities so we could have good playing surfaces for sports and other activities.”

The student plan involves more than gray water. They also propose using treated wastewater in municipal buildings and as a source of irrigation for local parks. The young people plan to present their proposal to Ashland City Council later this year.

Ashland Mayor Julie Akins said she recognizes that her city and the surrounding region are experiencing worsening water shortages, which can be helped by the planning the city is doing. But she believes that additional measures are necessary.

“Using recycled water for irrigation, for landscaping and any non-potable water makes perfect sense,” Akins wrote in an email to the newspaper. “It has to be done by individuals and by the city itself. I look forward to seeing the work of our Youth Advisory Council presented to Ashland City Council. They know the long-term cost of not responding to this crisis, and I wholeheartedly support their mission. »

Prior to the students’ presentation to the Ashland School Board on July 11, board chairman Victor Chang congratulated Millay, Maycann, Hernandez and the other members of the youth advisory council.

“Obviously we all live through these times, but it’s our youngest who are going to live through these times the longest,” Chang said. “One of the maybe limited things we can do is listen to them, if not do what they say.”

Chang stressed that his remarks were not an “early endorsement” of the students’ proposal.

In an interview after the meeting, Ashland School District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove noted that the recent school board meeting marked the first time district officials had heard of the proposal, and it’s not something they still had time to research.

“It’s definitely something to explore, but we’re not at that stage yet,” he said.

With ongoing district construction projects, it would not be possible to install a new water system in these facilities, Bogdanove noted. However, he said, if voters approve of a future bond to fund new projects, now could be an opportune time for a gray water system.

Bogdanove said the district and council are “constantly conscious of conservation” while balancing the responsibility of being “wise stewards of public funds.”

“Having said that, when we look at the long term, water conservation is something interesting, as are electric buses and some of these other kinds of sustainable technologies,” Bogdanove said. “So I think that’s something that will probably be of interest to the council and the district. I’m grateful the kids brought it up.”

Millay said part of the appeal behind the gray water proposal as a solution to help the district conserve water is that it doesn’t appear to be a divisive issue.

“Right now, our country is so politically charged. It is not, and should not be, a politically polarized issue where two sides argue,” she said. “Everyone is affected by the lack of water, and we all have to work to remedy it. Everyone can rally around this issue to make the changes that need to be made.

Contact journalist Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.

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