Officials focus on water conservation issues at Palo Alto’s Earth Day festival


The fifth Earth Day celebration hosted by Palo Alto was held April 14 at the Baylands Athletic Center to raise awareness on the impact communities have on water conservation and protection of natural resources.

“The City of Palo Alto is pleased to host this event as it celebrates healthy living, healthy communities and a healthy environment, which is one of the City Council’s priorities,” said Catherine Elvert, Palo Alto Utilities’ communications manager, during the start of the fun run.

She estimated over 1,000 people participated in the fun run and the various activities.

“Every year the event grows, we attract more people, we bring in more community partners and sponsors, and it’s great to be able to reach a broader, more diverse audience. We’ve had people coming in as far as the East Bay, and on down to Santa Cruz,” she said.

A 5k run/walk for all ages kicked off the celebrations at 9 a.m. Other activities included booths by government agencies and programs, as well as non-profit organizations, mini-workshops, live music, a bird walk, a guided bike ride and an electric vehicle ride and drive.

Avoiding water wastage 

Brandon Heller from Menlo Park mentioned one of the reasons why water conservation is especially important in the Bay Area.

“We only have so much water, and we have more and more people coming here. If we use up all the ground aquifers, we’re going to have to find more expensive sources of water,” he said.

Leaky toilets are just one source of common water wastage in home, since one out of five homes may have a toilet in any given year, according to Ora Chaiken from WaterSmart Software. She reprised her role as the “running toilet”, which participants tried to catch during the 5k and 1k fun runs.

“It’s a really fun thing to do, to come out dressed as the running toilet and help educate people,” said Chaiken. “A lot of people would think of one thing they’ve done… [but] there’s something else they could do.”

Other issues brought up during the festival were carbon emissions, especially from food production. Annee Tousseau and Veerangna Bhandari from Sustainable Silicon Valley invited Earth Day visitors to do the Burger Challenge. This showed how much more carbon is emitted to produce a burger made of beef, compared to either a vegetable or turkey burger.

However, people have also seen changes in how Bay Area residents look at water and its conservation.

“I think our perception of water and how vital and important of a resource it is has changed quite a bit, especially with the recent droughts and the severity of them,” said Heather Heinbaugh, a safety specialist with the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

  • Ora Chaiken, the running toilet, during the 5k run/walk.
    Ora Chaiken as the “High Efficiency Toilet” during the start of the 5k run/walk at Palo Alto’s Earth Day Festival. (Amy Cruz/Peninsula Press)

Bringing conservation to the larger community

Participants and partners during the event voiced the need to continue to educate people about conserving water so that future generations can continue to enjoy natural resources.

“We always want to be mindful of how we’re using our water and our resources because we want it to be around for the future generations, and our children’s children and their children,” said Heinbaugh.

Local efforts in conservation contribute towards the achievement of the global sustainable development goals, which are agreed upon by over 190 countries, including the United States.

“All these big goals can also be achieved at the local level,” Federico Olivieri, board member of the Mid-Peninsula chapter of the United Nations Association, said.

Water conservation affects not only human communities both locally and globally, but also the entire environment.

“Water touches so many things, and our planet is so interconnected, the entire ecosystem is interconnected,” said Elvert. “When we’re talking about the conservation of water, we’re talking about the conservation of natural resources, habitats, and making sure we are doing what we can to practice environmentally friendly ways of living. And I think this event really helps build that awareness.”