USC freshman creates rainwater collection system

The severe drought in California forced Catalina Island to enter Stage 3 water rationing last Sept., causing a 50 percent reduction in its water allotment, according to the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center. That’s when Elizabeth Shakhnazaryan, a freshman majoring in economics and environmental studies, decided to install 25 additional rain barrels on Catalina Island.

On campus, Shakhnazaryan works as an ambassador in the Environmental Student Assembly. But Shakhnazaryan’s drive for environmental advocacy started at a young age.

“My dad would help me collect recycling stuff from parks,” Shakhnazaryan said. “What I used to do then was personal, but after coming to college, I [saw] so many incredible opportunities to expand that and reach beyond just me.”

Shakhnazaryan’s original ideas included composting, recycling clothes and installing sustainable landscaping at USC. She then met with Karla Heidelberg, a co-sponsor of the proposal and the director of the USC Environmental Studies Program, and Jessica Dutton, the director of special projects at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. These faculty members helped Shakhnazaryan devise the implementation of rain barrels on the island.

“Jessica brought up the fact that the people at the WMSC are really struggling,” Shakhnazaryan said. “The idea of installing the rain barrels served as an immediate solution to the problem the people on Catalina Island have been facing.”

The USC Green Engagement Fund offered $2,400 grant to support Shakhnazaryan’s project, with the ultimate goal of raising awareness about environmental concerns that affect the community. The grant will help Shakhnazaryan set up the rain barrels along with water meters used to measure the amount of water collected.

Dutton believes the 50 percent water rationing move is both an institutional challenge and an educational opportunity.

“Elizabeth’s initiative will have a significant and timely impact at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center,” Dutton said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “Her project gives us the rain barrels we need to collect and reuse more water at the island, particularly in residential areas.”

According to Dutton, the initiative will also encourage student awareness and promote participation by all the visitors in the Wrigley Institute’s sustainability practices.

The WMSC has 16 existing rain barrels in the cafeteria and dorm areas, which are mainly used to do laundry and wash dishes. If the rain barrels have any extra water left, then the residents can utilize it for their personal use.

“The additional water that the existing rain barrels had was usually in short supply and [was] used up very quickly,” Shakhnazaryan said. “But after the project [is] complete, they will actually have water to take home for their personal use.”

Shakhnazaryan’s project will be used mostly by students and faculty at WMSC and for the staff that lives in the housing units at Two Harbors on the island. The 25 rainwater barrels will add up to 1,575 gallons of water, in addition to the water that the existing 16 barrels can hold. Shakhnazaryan hopes to finish the project in a couple of months to get as much water as possible before the start of spring.

According to Shakhnazaryan, USC can also do a lot to improve the sustainability of the University by installing rain barrels on campus or increasing the number of solar panels on its roofs.

“I want to do as many projects as possible,” Shakhnazaryan said. “I would love to work with Jessica and Karla again because they were very helpful and helped me put the project in its final form.”

Shakhnazaryan encouraged students to email their representatives about environmental concerns and get involved with such initiatives by joining the Environmental Student Assembly and the Environmental Core at USC. She added that students can also receive funding from the Green Engagement Fund to implement their own environmental projects.

Shakhnazaryan hopes to practice environmental law in the future, with her primary goal being to protect environmental interests.

“[The environment] is an issue which many put in the back of their heads, and that frustrates me,” Shakhnazaryan said. “It is an immediate problem, and once it becomes something that cannot be ignored, it’s going to be too late to do anything about it.”