Sustainable Cities Conference to Include UCLA Luskin Experts UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs among co-sponsors of May 16 conference focusing on transforming urban centers into sustainability leaders

Leading academics and experts from across the country and the globe will gather at UCLA on May 19, 2016, to discuss one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century: achieving sustainability. Expert panels at the Smart and Sustainable Cities Conference will focus on critical areas for transforming the world’s urban centers into sustainability leaders: transportation, water, energy, the built environment, and the digital city and sharing economy.

A closing panel will take an integrated approach to defining what makes a “sustainable city,” discuss the context necessary for innovative technologies and policies to take hold, and consider the broad social and economic issues involved.

UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is among the co-sponsors of the conference. Three Luskin faculty members and one Luskin Scholar — all with extensive experience in urban sustainability — will participate in the conference. They will weigh in on the cutting-edge policies, designs and technologies that are helping cities use limited resources as efficiently and intelligently as possible.

J.R. DeShazo is the director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, vice chair of the Department of Public Policy at Luskin and a professor of Public Policy and Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. His latest research highlights the importance of innovation in the quest for urban sustainability. In March, DeShazo and a team of interdisciplinary researchers at UCLA unveiled a method for turning concrete, an essential building block of cities, into an essential building block of a sustainable future.

While essential to the modern world, the ubiquitous material is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. About 5 percent of global emissions can be linked to concrete.

DeShazo and his team worked on a process that captures carbon from power plant smokestacks and turns it into an alternative to concrete — called CO2NCRETE. The closed-loop method for producing the material is highly efficient and environmentally friendly. It both limits carbon emissions and produces a fundamental building material for the modern world.

DeShazo’s current research also focuses on making Los Angeles County water self-sufficient. The project aims to create a feasible local water market for trading and selling county water resources, with input from stakeholders.

Dana Cuff is a professor of Architecture/Urban Design and Urban Planning and the founder and current director of UCLA’s cityLAB. Established in 2006, the research center explores the challenges facing the 21st century metropolis through design and research. Cuff’s work focuses on urban design, affordable housing, modernism, urban sensing technologies and the politics of place.

One of Cuff’s project at cityLAB included concept development and executive production of the BI(h)OME, which was completed last June. The ultra-modern lightweight accessory dwelling unit has the potential to address current housing shortages in an affordable way.

The structure also addresses urban sustainability challenges. The environmental impact of the structure over its entire life cycle is between 10 and 100 times less than a similar conventional structure and the BI(h)OME also can function as a biome, providing a home for multiple species. The structure also can supply water to surrounding vegetation using its grey water drainage system.

In August, Cuff received the Community Contribution Award from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects for her dynamic design contributions to Los Angeles.

Martin Wachs is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Urban Planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs. Wachs was a professor of civil and environmental engineering and professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also served as director of the Institute of Transportation Studies.

Prior to his work in Berkeley, he spent 25 years at UCLA, where he served for 11 years as chair of the Department of Urban Planning. Wachs was also director of the Transportation, Space and Technology Program at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.

Wachs is the author of more than 180 articles on planning and transportation and he also wrote or edited five books on transportation finance and economics, planning and policy.

He is the recipient of a UCLA Alumni Association Distinguished Teaching Award and the Carey Award for service to the Transportation Research Board.

Luskin Scholar Yoram Cohen of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has dedicated much of his work to water issues. In 2014, Cohen, the director of the Water Technology Research Center at UCLA, unveiled his portable, self-operating Smart Integrated Membrane System. SIMS makes undrinkable, brackish water usable.

Cohen has taken his system from the university campus into the field and it is currently being put to the test in the San Joaquin Valley, where it has successfully treated 25,000 gallons of contaminated water a day for almost two years. The potential of the system is vast thanks to its cost effectiveness and scalability.

Cohen is also the driving force behind the conference. One of the forum’s themes will be Israeli leadership in urban sustainability. Six of the 22 panelists are from Israel, which faces many of the same sustainability challenges as California.

Cohen also has deep ties to Israel. The Luskin Scholar and director of UCLA’s Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies was born in Israel and maintains professional connections to his country of birth as a member of the International Advisory Committee to the Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and as an adjunct professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The conference, at DeNeve Commons on the UCLA campus, is open to the public.

Water saver: Engineer’s invention makes dirty water reusable

Written by By Judy Lin, UCLA Today

L.A.’s Griffith Park shows signs of the California drought, which is now in its third year.

When Gov. Jerry Brown recently approved $687 million in relief funds to cope with the state’s devastating drought, he noted, “This legislation marks a crucial step, but Californians must continue to take every action possible to conserve water.”

Yoram Cohen is working on it.

For the past two years, in the backyard of a house in West Los Angeles, the UCLA professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Water Technology Research Center has been field-testing a “vertical wetlands” that mimics a wetlands in nature. That’s when dirty water gets naturally filtered as it runs through an expanse of plants, rocks, soil and indigenous bacteria as it makes its way to a river or other waterway.

Cohen’s Gray2Blue Mobile Wetland Graywater Treatment System cleans hundreds of gallons of “gray water” — runoff from the test home’s showers, bathroom sinks and laundry machine — that is then reused to irrigate trees and gardens.

The Gray2Blue pilot system, with its maximum output capacity of 560 gallons of reusable water a day, could conceivably save Californians billions of gallons of water. But it would require changes to state water regulations that, in many ways, slow the march toward water sustainability.

Cohen is working on that too.

“I’ve reached a stage in my life where I want to see things happen, not just find ways to solve problems from the technical viewpoint. Sometimes the impediments [to problem-solving are really a combination of technology and policy,” said Cohen, who has been working on water reclamation, recycling, reuse and desalination for much of his 30-year career at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. He is also a member of the UCLA Grand Challenges project team working towards its goal of “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles: Achieving 100% Sustainability in Energy, Water and Biodiversity by 2050.”

Cohen is working in collaboration with chemical engineering Ph.D. student Zita Yu, whose research focuses on the development of Gray2Blue and the policy and economic aspects of onsite graywater treatment and reuse in urban and rural areas. Also onboard is the Luskin Center for Innovation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. Their intent is to build a case for California regulators and residents alike to rethink how we use water.

Gray water from the test home’s bathroom sinks, showers and laundry is pumped outside into a holding tank.

“There’s been this whole idea that you use water once, and then you dump it in the sewer,” said Cohen. “That’s been the mindset.”

Gray2Blue, a refrigerator-size contraption of white plastic crates and plumbing topped with a patch of colorful flowers, challenges that notion. Graywater is pumped into the flower bed and, over a period of about three hours, percolates down through a two-foot layer of plant roots and soil that act as “phytoremediators” that filter out particles and contaminants. The water then passes through a biofilm layer of scum-eating bacteria and finally drips like gentle rain into a collection bin connected to irrigation pipes and a storage tank.

Reusing gray water isn’t a new concept, the researchers say, but Gray2Blue takes it to a whole new level. The water it produces is of high enough quality to meet California’s Title 22 standards for tertiary, disinfected, reclaimed water — water for aboveground, non-potable reuses like sprinkling a lawn or flushing a toilet. But under current regulations, Cohen noted, treated gray water can be used only sub-surface, as in the test home’s underground irrigation system. That leaves a large quantity of high-quality, filtered water going to waste, while the home’s above-ground lawn sprinkler and toilets continue to draw from the household’s supply of potable water.

The Gray2Blue system cleans gray water that is pumped into the flower bed on top and slowly percolates down through  layers of soil and biofilm that serve as natural filters.

Gray2Blue’s efficiency in harvesting high-quality water bolsters Cohen and Yu’s determination to persuade policymakers to reassess state water regulations. To this end, the researchers have been producing policy papers, including a recent analysis of water regulations in all 50 states.

California, with its long tradition of environmental awareness, has some of the strictest standards, Cohen noted. “I don’t fault that,” he said. “But I think we also need to be more progressive.”

Also in need of revision, he said, is the regulatory process for certifying a system like Gray2Blue. Currently, the state requires individual homeowners to regularly monitor and report on water quality if they install such a system.

“This puts a tremendous burden on the homeowner as if he or she were a major water treatment plant,” said Cohen. Instead, he said, regulators should certify not the individual users but the Gray2Blue system — the same way that household appliances are certified.

“When you get a stove, the stove is certified that it’s not going to emit carbon monoxide. You’re not required to continuously monitor your stove,” said Cohen. “You have to streamline the [graywater treatment] regulatory process rather than impose additional burdens on people.” Otherwise, he’s concerned that some people, pressured by the drought, will use gray water without treating it. “And then it becomes a health and potentially environmental issue.”

Cohen and Yu have also engaged in exhaustive number-crunching to determine everything from how much water the state can conserve to how much money homeowners can save: Every day a typical Californian uses about 198 gallons of water, about 62 gallons of it indoors. About half of that — some 31 gallons — ends up as gray water that could be filtered and reused. Multiply that by 37 million Californians, and that’s 1.1 billion gallons of potable water that could be saved every day.

With water rates in the city of Los Angeles currently running about $10.60 per 1,000 gallons, homeowners will save money with a system like Gray2Blue. They’ll also save on sewer charges, because water reused for watering a lawn doesn’t end up down the drain. This also helps relieve overloaded septic systems in homes that do not have sewer services.

By Cohen and Yu’s calculations, Gray2Blue — which was constructed with off-the-shelf components that run around $500-$600 or $1,300-$1,500 with the addition of an irrigation computer timer for the water pumps — could pay for itself in six months to two years. And the savings after that could add up to $2,000 a year. Cohen suggested that the state could offer homeowners a financial incentive, as it does with solar panels, to make the return-on-investment even faster.

The researchers have demonstrated the system to local and state officials, among them the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California — which provided some funding for their research — and the  L.A. Department of Water and Power. Cohen and Yu have also been presenting their work at water conferences nationally and internationally. Yu recently showed Gray2Blue to officials in Hong Kong’s Water Supplies Department, which is exploring options for gray water and who were also very interested in learning about U.S. regulatory incentives and impediments.

“Our approach has been to make this technology simple, affordable and one that can contribute to solving some of our water problems,” said Cohen. “It isn’t the only solution … there isn’t just one magic solution to all of our water problems. We have to increase our water portfolio, and this is one way to do that.”