Above, Reed Middle School Principal Jeanne Gamba and sixth-graders from the Environmental Science Academy celebrate their ‘Save the Drop’ contest victory.

Sixth-graders test the growth of plants using olla pots, their award-winning entry in the ‘Save the Drop’ water-conservation contest.

L.A. Unified has saved more than 1 billion gallons of water and $11 million under a conservation initiative launched in 2014, and even greater savings are expected as the District expands its sustainability efforts, officials said Thursday.

Over the last three academic years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) provided the District with nearly $1 million in rebates for making water-saving improvements. The District has installed “smart” irrigation systems at campuses, utilized recycled rather than potable water to irrigate landscaping and replaced aging plumbing fixtures with low-flow versions, resulting in a 17 percent reduction in water consumption.

“L.A. Unified’s partnership with LADWP has allowed us to expand our water conservation efforts throughout our schools and centers,” School Board Member Scott Schmerelson told a news conference. “From 2014-17, the District has saved 447 million gallons of water annually, which translates to approximately $3.7 million a year in savings to our utilities budget.”

That effort has saved a total of 1.34 billion gallons of water – enough to supply 12,340 single-family homes for a year, officials say.

There is the potential for even greater savings, with the District planning to continue the installation of low-flow fixtures and introduce recycled-water irrigation at five more of its campuses.

In addition, L.A. Unified is ensuring that education is part of the conservation initiative, with projects designed to teach students about the importance of efficient and sustainable practices. “Save the Drop,” a recent drought-awareness contest, drew entries from 27 schools that submitted student videos, artwork and science experiments related to water conservation.

The winning project was an experiment conducted by sixth-grade students from Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, who used terracotta olla pots to irrigate plants with minimal amounts of water. For devising the winning project, the sixth-grade class received a $10,000 prize, while the school’s Environmental Science Academy earned a $50,000 award from the District.

Principal Jeanne Gamba said the money will be spent to upgrade Reed’s greenhouse and lath house, create an aquaponics lab, and purchase time-lapse cameras and Chromebooks for science experiments.

LADWP Commissioner Jill Banks-Barad, City Councilman Paul Krekorian and School Board Member Scott Schmerelson join Reed Middle School students in promoting the ‘Bucket Brigade.’

“There is no greater joy for a principal then visiting a classroom of students and watching their faces when they learn that their perseverance has been recognized with such a prestigious and generous award,” she said.

The results of the conservation contest were announced at Reed, where the LADWP also promoted its “Bucket Brigade” campaign that encourages water conservation at home and in neighborhoods. Each Environmental Science Academy student received an LADWP bucket so they can collect water from showers or baths to use for recycling at home. The kids said they will keep practicing other water-saving habits as well, like turning off the faucet when brushing their teeth and limiting their shower to just five minutes.

LADWP officials said they continue to look for ways to help the District economize on its utility costs so that more money can be spent on teaching and learning.

“As LADWP’s largest water and electric customer, L.A. Unified has made significant steps in conservation of which we all can be very proud,” said Marty Adams, LADWP’s chief operating officer. “We look forward to our continued collaboration with L.A. Unified to identify future energy and water efficiency opportunities and help the District save water and money.”

To learn more about the District’s conservation and sustainability programs, see learninggreen.laschools.org.

Click here to view a KLCS-TV video of the event at Reed Middle School.