Gregory Pierce, adjunct professor of urban planning and associate director of research at the Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Arizona PBS about the presence of lead in California’s drinking water. California is testing pipes and upgrading plumbing at public schools across the state, the article noted. Nearby homes typically share the same water systems, but “there’s no required testing for these privately owned places, which may result in many people not knowing that the water they are using for showers, cooking and drinking purposes may have lead contamination,” Pierce said. The article cited a UCLA report card on water quality in Los Angeles County, where some residents perceive that their tap water is unsafe. “With the lack of trust in their water, these lower-income residents and areas are now having to rely on water stores, or having to buy drinks such as juice or soda because they believe there are issues with their water.”
Gregory Pierce, adjunct professor of urban planning and associate director of research at the Luskin Center for Innovation, wrote an opinion piece for the Press-Telegram about water affordability in Southern California. The West Basin Municipal Water District is considering building a desalination plant whose cost would be shared among residents of the 17 cities it serves. Upon examining an environmental impact report, Pierce found that the project is seeking approval without releasing a rate study that would determine how to allocate the cost. “Before greenlighting a half-billion-dollar (or more) desalination plant, West Basin should be looking at all its options to effectively increase available water supply,” Pierce argued. “I hope they take their responsibility to deliver on California’s Human Right to Water law seriously, and only make a decision when they can fully demonstrate that the desalination project would not make its water unaffordable for the region’s working-class residents.”
By Colleen Callahan
California is the only state to legally recognize a human right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. But this right is not yet a reality in all communities. About 400 water systems in California are currently known to be noncompliant, with many others suspected of being at high risk of violating quality or affordability standards.
Through a $3 million contract with the California State Water Resources Board, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) will conduct a statewide drinking water needs analysis to identify risks and solutions for water systems and private wells throughout the state.
LCI, which unites UCLA scholars and civic leaders to solve environmental challenges, will analyze the technical, managerial and financial capacity of hundreds of systems that provide drinking water to Californians, which has never been done comprehensively before. The center will start with the state’s existing database of noncompliant water systems and will also identify systems at risk of future violations.
“About 90% of California’s public water system violations occur in systems serving less than 500 service connections, underscoring the inherent risk of small size and lack of capacity,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of the Luskin Center for Innovation and lead researcher on the analysis.
The center will develop a method for assessing different types of drinking water risks, then evaluate solutions for those risks. Recommendations will be tailored for each water system and private well in violation or at risk of violation. Interventions could include:
- Using enhanced treatment technologies.
- Consolidating with a system that has more capacity.
- Providing emergency water during an interim period.
In addition, the center will analyze the costs of interim and long-term strategies, identify the appropriate funding source and determine whether additional funding is needed.
Recognizing that advancing the human right to water must be a collaboration, the LuskinCenter for Innovation will partner with several entities to conduct the analysis. Subcontractors include the University of North Carolina’s Environmental Finance Center, Corona Environmental Consulting, Cal State Sacramento’s Office of Water Programs and the nonprofit Pacific Institute. The work is expected to conclude in 2021.
“This work recognizes that California needs to further address the drinking water quality and affordability issues faced by a number of small and medium-sized water systems and private well owners in a more strategic and better-funded way,” Pierce said.
This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 200, which established the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to help finance the effort to bring adequate water supplies to disadvantaged communities.
The LCI analysis will help inform the spending plan for SB 200 and other associated funding streams by prioritizing which water systems and wells get funding and determining the best solutions for each community.
For the smallest systems, water safety is a primary concern; for larger systems, the center will focus on affordability. LCI’s previous research identified wide disparities in the cost of water. In Los Angeles County, different rates charged by water providers can lead to average annual water bills that are up to $2,000 higher in some households.
In the years since California enshrined a human right to water in 2012, LCI has supported its implementation. This work includes the design of a statewide water rate assistance program for low-income households, as required by Assembly Bill 401, which then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2015. The center’s report will be released later this year.
In another example of support for sustainable water systems in L.A. County, JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, is serving on an oversight committee for Measure W, which will raise hundreds of millions of dollars in property taxes to capture and treat stormwater runoff.
Gregory Pierce, associate director of research at the Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke with 20 Questions About Water about access to clean water in the United States and around the world. Pierce, an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning, said the percentage of people with access to clean water has increased but the raw number has not due to population growth. Pierce believes the government should be responsible for providing water at the local level. When governments have insufficient resources or are beset by corruption, a coalition of private companies, NGOs, the government and the community should be formed to provide real solutions, he argued. In the next 100 years, Pierce believes, water will become more decentralized and investments in water resources and technology will pay off. He encouraged citizens concerned about access to clean water to pressure decision-makers to take action.
By Colleen Callahan
Record-breaking heat and scorching summer wildfires are signs of a hotter California. As part of efforts to further knowledge and action on climate change, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) is part of two winning partnership grants ─ totaling more than $4 million ─ awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council.
The Council’s new and competitive Climate Change Research Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that is putting billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment. Both grants will benefit disadvantaged communities in particular.
Measuring the Impacts of Climate Change on Vulnerable Communities to Design and Target Protective Policies
A nearly $1.5-million grant led by LCI involves multiple studies of heat-related climate impacts, as well as factors that make populations and communities vulnerable, plus opportunities to build resilience. Climate change could exacerbate existing inequities, and LCI will develop tools to help government agencies target responses and empower communities.
“The goal is to increase the climate resilience of California’s vulnerable communities in the face of rapidly increasing extreme heat events,” said JR DeShazo, the grant’s principal investigator and LCI director.
The researchers include R. Jisung Park, an LCI scholar and an assistant professor of public policy and environmental health sciences at UCLA Luskin, who will assess climate change impacts on low-income workers. Gregory Pierce, associate director of research at LCI, will assess the climate risk of vulnerable built environments — including affordable housing — to better inform protective policies.
Collaborations with government agencies, nonprofit organizations and community leaders will be integral to the work. For example, civic partners will oversee the development of geographic tools to identify areas disproportionately affected by heat-related climate change and vulnerability factors. Stakeholders will also be able to identify policies, funding and other opportunities to increase resilience in vulnerable areas and among vulnerable populations such as low-income workers and residents.
The analysis of resilience opportunities will also be collaborative. A partnership with the Liberty Hill Foundation and community-based organizations will test a coordinated outreach pilot called Opportunity Communities to promote clean and affordable energy, transportation and associated financial assistance for low-income households. Researchers will assess the effectiveness of this strategy to build financial and health resilience to climate change impacts.
Climate Smart Communities Consortium
A partnership grant led by UC Davis and the UC Institute of Transportation Studies will also involve LCI. This $2.6-million grant to a multifaceted group of researchers from seven academic institutions will tackle the challenge of transportation-related environmental impacts, which fall disproportionately on low-income communities of color. Researchers will seek solutions that reduce emissions and improve the mobility and quality of life for California’s most vulnerable communities.
LCI will collaboratively study interrelated areas of innovative mobility, electrification and freight movement, using equity and policy engagement lenses as crosscutting themes. Research will center on regional case study initiatives and statewide initiatives to demonstrate findings.
The Strategic Growth Council brings together multiple agencies and departments to support sustainable communities emphasizing strong economies, social equity and environmental stewardship. For updates during implementation of the latest grants, see LCI’s climate action program at innovation.luskin.ucla.edu/climate.
Luskin Center for Innovation researcher Gregory Pierce commented in a recent KPCC “Take Two” broadcast about a lawsuit filed by Compton residents complaining about discolored drinking water supplied by Sativa, a small local water district serving the area. “Part of the issue for Sativa is actually that it hasn’t yet violated the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards. It’s much easier for the state or the county to dissolve the system or try to consolidate a system when it has repeatedly violated those standards,” Pierce says in the segment that begins at the 17:19-minute mark. “But the larger issue is that once a system is set up and the state or county wants to dissolve it, the big obstacle is that, oftentimes, there is no one else to take on that system.”
Policymakers and professionals need important research to improve our transportation system, but it too often languishes behind the intimidating walls of academia. Transfers Magazine, a new biannual digital publication led by faculty and staff at the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, aims to break down those walls by distilling the expert knowledge of scholars into tangible links to action. Donald Shoup and Martin Wachs, distinguished professors of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, serve as senior editors for Transfers. Each issue will feature shorter, more readable versions of peer-reviewed, previously published academic journal articles with the goal of making research accessible to students, policymakers, the press and the general public. Transfers is the flagship publication of the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR), a research consortium of eight universities in Arizona, California and Hawaii. The inaugural issue was released on May 16 and features new studies from PSR scholars, including UCLA Luskin faculty members Evelyn Blumenberg, Brian D. Taylor, Gregory Pierce and Shoup, on key questions for transportation policy. The issue is now available online, and readers can receive future issues sent directly to their email by subscribing. Between issues, the Transfers staff will connect research updates, student projects, expert opinion and campus news to current events in the transportation world on the The Circulator blog and on Twitter.
In the face of extreme weather, polluted aquifers, overconsumption and other urgent threats to our water supply, Sandra Postel has reason to hope. The leading authority on water sustainability has traveled the world seeking out fresh strategies to protect an ecosystem that is under attack. “Yes, the water cycle is badly broken,” she told a gathering hosted by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation on Jan. 25. “But through creativity, through innovation, through some interesting ingenuity, a good dose of courage and some risk-taking … we can fix it.” Instead of trying to tame nature, humans would be wiser to respect its rhythms, says Postel, who lays out her case in the new book “Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity.” At the Luskin Innovators Speaker Series event, Postel was joined by a panel of policy experts and entrepreneurs from across Southern California: Eric Hoek, former UCLA professor and co-founder of Water Planet, which develops advanced water filtration systems; Rita Kampalath, program director for L.A. County’s Chief Sustainability Office; and Omar Moghaddam, who has three decades of experience working with wastewater and renewable resources in Los Angeles. The discussion was moderated by Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor of environment and sustainability at UCLA. Postel stressed that collaboration is key to a more secure water future. A national initiative she co-created, Change the Course, draws together business leaders, conservationists and the public to reduce waste and replenish water in the natural world. To date, Change the Course has restored more than 8 billion gallons to depleted rivers and wetlands, earning it the 2017 U.S. Water Prize for creative water management solutions. “Sounds like a big number,” says Postel. “It’s a drop in the bucket, of course, of what’s needed. But it’s made a difference.” — Mary Braswell
View a Flickr album from Postel’s talk and the panel discussion that followed: