DIG Coop: Taking Ownership of Business and Water Conservation

Recently, NASA scientist, Jay Famiglietti, wrote an LA Times op-ed with a headline stating that California has one year of water left. Immediately causing great panic on the Internet, LA Times later corrected the headline to state that California has just one year of water stored. Regardless of whether California has one year of water left or just one year of water stored, we don’t need a NASA scientist to tell us that California needs to conserve more water.

Entering its fourth year of record-breaking drought, California continues to experience unusually high temperatures and historically low precipitation. As a result, the state’s groundwater and snowpack levels remain at all-time lows without a contingency plan in place. Although Governor Jerry Brown recently introduced a $1 billion package of emergency legislation targeted at combatting California’s drought, critics are clamoring for more.

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DIG Cooperative, Inc. located in Oakland, CA (Credit: GC3)

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In his controversial op-ed, Famiglietti calls for the public to “take ownership of this issue” and actively engage in discussions and decisions surrounding our most important, commonly owned resource. Here at the Green-Collar Communities Clinic (GC3), we have been fortunate to provide assistance to DIG Cooperative, Inc. (DIG Coop), an Oakland-based worker-owned cooperative whose members are not only taking ownership of their business, but also taking ownership of water scarcity and conservation.

Established in 2005, DIG Coop is an innovative general contracting firm specializing in integrated water solutions for people and the environment. Responding to the ill effects of global warming, DIG Coop provides its clients—individuals and organizations alike—proactive strategies for more sustainable and efficient use of natural resources, specifically water. These strategies include rainwater catchment and greywater irrigation systems—two viable alternatives to the punitive fines that California has put in place for excessive lawn-watering.

Rainwater catchment systems harvest and reuse rainwater for various purposes including irrigation and indoor plumbing use. Through a DIG Coop rainwater catchment system, just an inch of rainfall can provide up to 600 gallons of water. Rainwater can be reused for washing machines, toilet flushing and landscape and garden irrigation. With proper filtration and sterilization, rainwater can also supply a home or development with potable quality water.

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(L-R) Tondre, Niko, Javier, Maria and Anya of DIG Cooperative, Inc. (Credit: GC3)

Similar to rainwater catchment, greywater systems also harvest and reuse water. However, instead of rainwater, greywater systems reuse the wastewater from a home or development’s plumbing system. The system typically reroutes water from a shower, bathroom sink, or washing machine to irrigate a landscape or garden. More extensive systems can also filter and reuse greywater to flush toilets. On average, one home can produce over 30,000 gallons of greywater per year. To put this number in perspective, data shows that on average, California residents (including all businesses except agriculture) use 196 gallons of water per day, or about 71,000 gallons of water per year. A greywater system can cut that figure down by at least 40 percent.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that DIG Coop pushes beyond traditional business ownership to create a democratic workplace in which each of the coop’s five members have a vote and share in the profits. As both workers and owners of the business, members have a say in all aspects of the coop ranging from how much they get paid to selecting client projects. As a result, members are just as invested in the business’ success as they are in its mission.

Through cooperative ownership and its commitment to ecological regeneration, DIG Coop advances GC3’s mission to support the creation of green jobs and resilient communities. After participating in the first Worker Coop Academy, DIG Coop has set out to expand its model with our assistance. We have since revised the coop’s bylaws, advised on its tax status, and completed an employment law audit with the goal of fine-tuning the coop’s business operations and preparing it for growth while maintaining its cooperative principles. In the near future, DIG Coop seeks to hire employees who will have the potential to become members.

Although rainwater catchment and greywater systems cannot solve California’s water crisis alone, DIG Coop’s integrated water solutions provide a more sustainable alternative to the status quo. Fittingly, DIG Coop’s cooperative business model itself embodies a more sustainable alternative to the status quo of undemocratic workplaces. Each of DIG Coop’s members wears the hat of owner and worker. And this increased decision-making power increases the business’ overall commitment to ecological regeneration through water. On both fronts, DIG Coop is taking ownership and creating better systems for both water consumption and the workplace.

Jassmin Antolin Poyaoan is a third year law student at UCLA School of Law. She is spending her final semester of law school as clerk with GC3.

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