ENCINITAS — The three, 300-gallon rain barrels students and teachers will see at the Encinitas Union Farm Lab are fairly unique.
The Israeli-designed rain barrels are the first of their kind in California, part of a pilot program being launched by the U.S.—Israel Center (USIC) at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management.
Officials said the program aims to teach school-aged children valuable lessons about water conservation while also helping the schools cut costs associated with irrigation and water use in a method used in Israel for 16 years.
“The water conservation efforts the students in San Diego and Encinitas will spearhead is wonderful, but what really will be inspirational will be watching how the rain barrel program changes how these kids think about and use water,” said Susan Lapidus, executive director of USIC. “It’s very exciting to be able to bring this technology developed in Israel to San Diego. It is my fervent hope that this is just the beginning of technology transfers between San Diego and Israel.”
The farm lab is one of three schools in the county to participate in the program: Franklin Elementary in City Heights and Pacific Beach Middle School are the others.
Encinitas Union School District official Mim Michelove, who oversees the farm lab, said the district was recommended for the project by the Leichtag Foundation, the large Jewish philanthropic organization that focuses on, among other things, environmental sustainability.
“Once I learned about the innovative rain barrel design and its ability to provide consistently clean water, it became clear that this exciting environmental education opportunity was a perfect fit for EUSD students,” Michelove said.
The system was pioneered in Israel by a science teacher named Amir Yechieli, who was inspired to create the water catchment system after a major storm in Israel in 2000. Today, more than 140 schools in Israel employ the system through Yechieli’s company Rain Harvest.
Runoff is collected by gravity or sump pumps from roofs and other areas into three to four interconnected tanks, which can store up to 300 gallons each. Sediments that settle in these settling tanks are easily drained through an opening until the water runs clear.
Michelove said the farm lab plans to use rainwater within the school’s emerging water education zone to model ancient irrigation systems and to water landscaping. In a distinction from the other schools, the district also is looking at using the rainwater for toilet flushing at the Quail Gardens drive location.
Santa Monica has used rainwater in a similar fashion at one of its library branches and Sacred Heart Middle School in Northern California also has a similar toilet-flushing program.
Michelove said that the system at the farm lab will store up to 1,000 gallons of water during each rain event, and the savings on the irrigation bill will be well received. The water bill is already fairly low as a result of drip irrigation techniques as well as so-called “soil fertility plan” implemented with the assistance of Coastal Roots Farm, and arm of the Leichtag Foundation.
“Receiving precious resources for free is always of benefit, no matter what the quantity,” she said.
Michelove, however, acknowledged that one of the hurdles the farm lab might face with the storage of water is using that water before the next rain event.
“The key is understanding what your water will be used for, the quality of the water and the need for storage,” Michelove said. “For instance, you don’t need to water your garden following a rain event because the ground is wet and the plants are satisfied.
“So you store your irrigation water until it is needed again, likely leaving you with full tanks when the next rain comes — and the opportunity is missed to collect more water,” she said. “It is worth exploring useful ways to utilize that water quickly so you will be ready to capture more water as the season brings you more rain.”