Luskin Center Joins California Urban Water Conservation Council to Advance So Cal Water Supply Resiliency Research

In mid-March, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation attended the Plenary Meeting of the California Urban Water Conservation Council (Council) to accept membership in the Council of over 400 urban water suppliers, environmental advocacy organizations, and water policy researchers. Formed in 1991, this collaborative forum brings together urban water suppliers, the water policy community, and environmental advocates to advance water conservation throughout the state. The Council develops innovative practices and technologies for water efficiency and conservation, encourages effective public policy decision-making, advances research, training, and public education, and builds on collaborative partnerships.

The Council’s founding Memorandum of Understanding requires urban water supplier signatories to provide detailed information about their water supply sources, water deliveries, water distribution and billing systems and implementation of water conservation rebates and incentives. This rich dataset will form an important part of current research proposals in the Luskin Center’s Smart Water Systems Initiative. Using drought and the long term impacts of climate change on the region’s water resources as a contextual lens, the Luskin Center will identify urban water agencies in Southern California that are increasingly resilient to short and long term drought conditions. The Luskin Center will also identify those agencies that are increasingly vulnerable to current and future drought conditions. As proposed, this analysis will be presented as an online web-mapping tool and database called the Southern California Water Atlas and Archive. This project will provide valuable resources for furthering water policy research initiatives, improving local water supply planning, and enhancing regional resiliency to climate change impacts.

Urban water supply signatories to the Council’s MOU are required to self-report and deliver data every two years. Many of the datasets collected before 2008 are still in hardcopy format, while all records submitted after 2008 are stored in digital format. Data collected by the Council includes information on water sources and uses, utility operations and practices, water loss control, metering, retail conservation pricing, retail wastewater rates, public information programs, rebates for residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional water customers, and landscape conservation programs.

The California Urban Water Conservation Council emerged in the mid-1990s from a growing concern for water supply reliability and the efficient use of water resources through conservation. To assist urban water agencies in achieving this goal, urban water suppliers, water policy analysts, and environmental groups created the nonprofit organization. Over several decades, the Council grew into a hub for innovative practices and policies that advance water conservation efforts statewide. Many attribute major decreases in per capita urban water usage in Southern California over the last several decades to the Council’s efforts.


Journalist Sasha Issenberg to be Civil Society Fellow

Political journalist Sasha Issenberg will be in residence as a Fellow in the Center for Civil Society in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and the UCLA Department of Political Science for spring quarter 2014.

Mr. Issenberg is currently Washington correspondent for The Monocle, a magazine covering global affairs, business culture and design. He is the Author of The Victory Lab: the Secret Science of Winning Elections (Crown, 2012), which shows how political campaigns have been transformed by innovations in data, analytics, and behavioral psychology. He is also the author of The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of Modern Delicacy (Gotham/Penguin, 2007), which describes how sushi went from a street snack to a major global commodity in less than a decade.

He is currently writing a book on marriage equality to be published by Crown/Random House, The Engagement: A Quarter-Century of Defending, Defining, and expanding Marriage in America. The Engagement will document the political, legal, and social history of the battles over gay marriage in the United States. Mr. Issenberg’s UCLA Fellowship is supported in part by a generous contribution from the David Bohnett Foundation.

Mr. Issenberg will co-teach a Fiat Lux undergraduate course, Victory Lab, Exploring the Mechanics of Modern Campaigns with Lynn Vavreck of the Political Science Department, who was instrumental in bringing Mr. Issenberg to UCLA. The Fiat Lux Course will meet every other Tuesday from 3:30 to 4:50 in room 1284 of the Public Affairs building. Luskin students are welcome to sit in on the class, which will also feature a number of prominent guest speakers from the political arena.

In addition he will lead brown bag lunch discussions for the Luskin community: Thursday, May 1, 12 pm Why We Stopped Fighting over Gay Marriage” in 3333, and Wednesday, May 14, 12 pm for Why the Democrats Are Better with Data in Room 3343. He will also lead a Dean’s Salon in May on the topics of “Sushi, Campaign Strategy, and Civil Rights.”

Mr. Issenberg has held editorial and reporting positions for George, Philadelphia Magazine, The Boston Globe, and Slate. He has also published articles in a wide range of major publications including the New York Times Magazine, New York, The Atlantic and The Washington Monthly. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics in 2013. He is a 2002 graduate of Swarthmore College.

Most recently, he published “America Exports Democracy, Just not the Way You Think,” in the March 14 Sunday New York Times Review.  And in 2012 he held his own with Stephen Colbert.

Mr. Issenberg’s office is Rm 6273, in the Public Affairs Building, and he can be reached at

Soja’s ‘My Los Angeles’ Reviewed in L.A. Times

Distinguished Urban Planning professor emeritus Edward Soja’s new book, My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanizations, has been reviewed in the Los Angeles Times.

“Edward Soja, a geographer at UCLA, has spent much of his long career trying to read Los Angeles,” the reviewer, journalist and UCLA academic Jon Christensen writes. “Along the way, he developed innovative and sometimes controversial theories of urbanization and became a founder of a dynamic ‘L.A. School’ of urban studies.”

In placing Soja at the creation of this school of thought, Christensen, who is the editor of Boom: A Journal of California, credits Soja with “some of the most provocative and productive ideas to our understanding of cities in recent history.”

Soja’s book primarily addresses Los Angeles’ socio-economic landscape in the wake of the 1992 civil unrest, which he sees as a consequence of decades of economic decline and racial isolation. The key factor to future growth will be networks — of employment, transportation and culture — that serve all areas of the city and empower stronger communities and individuals.

Soja’s observations are important, Christensen writes. “In the next 30 to 40 years, as the worldwide population grows from 7 billion to 9 billion and possibly more, all of that growth effectively will be absorbed in cities, doubling the urban population on Earth.”

“That means the urban built environment will double too,” he continues. “The shape of those urban spaces, as Edward Soja shows, will fundamentally shape the future.”

My Los Angeles is published by the University of California Press.

Answering President Obama’s Call to Use ‘Climate Data’ to Grow Economy, Increase Resiliency

The UCLA Luskin Center and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) released new maps as part of the Graduated Density Zoning tool designed to help local leaders identify opportunities to invest in clean energy jobs and strengthen climate resiliency in vulnerable communities. The maps are a response to President Obama’s new Climate Data Initiative, a call to action to leverage data in order to stimulate innovation and climate change preparedness.

“The UCLA Luskin Center, along with our research partner the Environmental Defense Fund, looks forward to being part of a national movement bringing data to bear to help communities, companies and citizens effectively prepare for climate change,” said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center.

The maps debuted at the Investment Justice through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund working conference on March 21 and also at the Environmental Forum hosted by Assembly member Mike Gatto on March 29.

“Data mapping tools like the LASER Atlas provide powerful visualizations of the effects that climate change can have on our most vulnerable communities, while also highlighting opportunities for economic growth, job creation and increased resiliency,” said Jorge Madrid of the Environmental Defense Fund.

For example, one map underscores that disadvantaged communities in L.A. County are benefiting from the installation of rooftop solar, with over 1,400 solar systems in low-income neighborhoods in just the investor-owned utility areas of the county alone. Yet another map in the LASER Atlas shows that we are only beginning to tap into L.A. County’s tremendous capacity to generate solar power. And doing so could reduce the need to fully operate polluting power plants in the region.

The maps also illustrate that residents of L.A. County are disproportionately impacted by environmental risks but, in turn, could disproportionately benefit from upcoming investments from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. This Fund provides a new opportunity to invest in renewable energy, as well as clean transportation and sustainable communities, to combat climate change and create jobs. SB 535 requires that at least 25 percent of the monies from this Fund go to projects that provide benefits to disadvantaged communities.

The LASER Atlas research contributes to UCLA’s Grand Challenge Project “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles,” whose goal is for the Los Angeles region to use exclusively renewable energy and local water by 2050 while protecting biodiversity and enhancing quality of life.


Luskin Center To Host Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund Conference

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation will bring together leaders in government, nonprofits, academia and industry March 21 for a workshop designed to help disadvantaged communities take a leading role in fighting climate change.

Consistent with President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, the “Investment Justice through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund workshop will advance a data-driven approach to combat climate change and build community resiliency with smart investments.

States across the nation are starting to make investments to reduce carbon pollution. In California, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will provide billions of dollars for projects designed to mitigate climate change and create local benefits, especially in hard hit communities.

But many questions remain about revenue allocation and implementation in disadvantaged communities. The Investment Justice Workshop at UCLA will support the development of an analytical, data-driven approach for this process. This will involve evaluative criteria to guide investment decisions and performance metrics to track results of the investments.

“California’s climate leadership provides lessons for the rest of the country,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center and professor of public policy at UCLA. “Aligned with President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, UCLA is bringing together leaders and lessons to help the State make wise investments with the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.”

The event will feature research including Graduated Density Zoning, produced by the UCLA Luskin Center and commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The LASER Atlas provides a tool to help local decision-makers and community members think strategically about where to invest to mitigate carbon pollution, expand renewable energy generation and create jobs. The Atlas includes maps of climate change vulnerability as well as rooftop solar energy capacity.

The LASER Atlas underscores how smart investments in solar and energy efficiency can reduce energy bills, thus lowering climate change emissions while at the same time making buildings more livable and saving money for residents, businesses and taxpayers.

The information in the Atlas comes at an important time. Unless changes are made, the L.A. region is projected to have three times the number of extreme heat days in the downtown and urban core by 2050, and four times the number of heat days in the valleys and at higher elevations, according to a separate UCLA study led by Alex Hall and mapped in the LASER Atlas.

In response to the President’s call to action via his Climate Data Initiative, the UCLA Luskin Center and EDF are now adding additional data layers to the LASER Atlas and plan to expand it to include other geographic areas.

“The UCLA Luskin Center, along with our research partner the Environmental Defense Fund, looks forward to being part of a national movement bringing data to bear to help communities, companies and citizens effectively prepare for climate change,” said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center.

“Data mapping tools like the LASER Atlas provide powerful visualizations of the effects that climate change can have on our most vulnerable communities, while also highlighting opportunities for economic growth, job creation and increased resiliency,” said Jorge Madrid of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Specifically, the new maps show that residents of Los Angeles County are disproportionately impacted by environmental risks but, in turn, could disproportionately benefit from upcoming investments from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

For example, the LASER Atlas illustrates that disadvantaged communities are already benefiting from the installation of rooftop solar panels, with over 1,400 solar systems in low-income neighborhoods in just the investor-owned utility areas of the county alone. The data shows that expanding these installations would tap into L.A. County’s tremendous capacity to generate solar power.

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund provides a new opportunity to invest in renewable energy, as well as clean transportation and sustainable communities, to combat climate change and create jobs.

The event on March 21 and its related research contributes to UCLA’s Grand Challenge Project “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles,” whose goal is for the Los Angeles region to use exclusively renewable energy and local water by 2050 while protecting biodiversity and enhancing quality of life.


Students Journey Far Afield for Spring Break Work

Students in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning are taking their shows on the road this Spring Break.

In pursuit of independently organized projects, groups of students will travel to Detroit, Mexico City and Tokyo. The trips are designed to encourage a broader understanding of issues of urbanization, governance, policy and social service.

In Detroit, a group of 10 students will explore the consequences of the city’s bankruptcy on urban policy. During their time in the city they have meetings scheduled with a host of city officials, including agency heads, nonprofit leaders and Mayor Mike Duggan. In their conversations the students hope to uncover lessons of governing a city in crisis, resources available to city managers and the role citizens can play in rebuilding an iconic city’s image. “Detroit represents the most extreme versions of problems in the urban core,” the students write on their trip blog. “This trip will serve to contextualize urban planning issues in the canonical distressed city.”

The Mexico City trip will cross disciplinary lines to understand transportation access in the context of a global metropolis. With many similarities in structure and environment as Los Angeles, 28 students from all three UCLA Luskin departments will use the Mexican capital as a source for new ideas in social justice, equity and community empowerment. The sessions packed into the five-day schedule, spanning such topics as bikesharing, parking management, women’s needs, sustainable development and public space programming, will be distilled into a post-trip event at UCLA Luskin. The group will also be posting updates to a dedicated website during the trip.

Two groups of students are heading for Tokyo. The first will follow a path established in previous years as they travel to the Tohoku region of Japan’s largest island, where they will engage with civic leaders responding to the 2011 earthquake that inundated the city of Sendai. More than three years after the disaster, the region still offers vital lessons of emergency planning, critical response and community rebuilding. The second group, traveling under the auspices of UCLA’s Urban Humanities Institute, will explore the role of transportation in crafting a community through an innovative interpretation of the neighborhood surrounding Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest transportation center.

Beyond the March pause in classes, UCLA Luskin students spend summer breaks living and working overseas through the International Practice Pathway program.

Student Postcard: Seeking Resiliency in the Pacific Rim

Greg Pierce, a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning, was selected as the sole UCLA representative to attend the Second Annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative Forum in Manila this month. Upon his return to the states, he shared this postcard of his experience in the city, which is still recovering from a major typhoon that struck in 2013.

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Pacific Cities Sustainability Initiative (PCSI) Forum in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. I was selected as the graduate student representative from UCLA to participate in the conference. The Urban Land Institute and the Asia Society jointly sponsored the forum, which brought together a diverse group of academics (including Professor Robert Spich from the UCLA Anderson School), officials from the Philippine government, real estate developers and other development consultants. Participants traveled from all across Asia and North America to Manila.

The theme of this year’s forum was ‘Creating Livable and Resilient Cities.’ This theme was particularly appropriate in the context of Manila, which experiences serious flooding several times a year, especially in lower-income areas. Moreover, the country as a whole is still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan. The typhoon struck in November 2013, devastating cities and towns throughout the islands of Leyte and ranking as the deadliest typhoon in the country’s history. Outsized, adverse weather events in the Philippines and throughout the Pacific Rim are only expected to increase in light of climate change.

The day before the forum began, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Santiago in Old Manila. Much of this area of the city was built in the 16th century by the Spanish. This area is rich in colonial and post-colonial history and featured a range of diverse architecture, including Manila’s city hall building. While in this part of town, I was also able to visit some neighborhoods nearby that provided a taste of the typical day-to-day experience of the city’s residents.

The first day of the forum consisted of ‘mobile workshops’ to different areas of the city to see urban resiliency in action. The mobile workshop I attended served as quite a contrast from Old Manila. I visited both Makati, the central business district and financial hub of the city, and Bonifacio Global City, a relatively new master planned development. Both areas have taken urban resiliency to heart by implementing advanced storm water management techniques and constructing earthquake-resistant buildings with the most flexible materials. However, Makati and Bonifacio are largely designed for wealthy Filipinos and foreigners, and do not facilitate the inclusion of the city’s lower and middle income residents. Another poignant portion of the tour included a visit to the memorial cemetery for the Americans and Filipinos who perished in World War II.

An explanation of the storm water management system in Bonifacio Global City

The World War II memorial cemetery with Bonifacio Global City in background

The subsequent days of the conference were held at the eclectic Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City. The forum featured keynote addresses by Sir Robert Parker — the mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand when the major 2011 earthquake struck the city — and Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, the director of disaster relief in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami devastated Aceh province. These experts provided both practical advice for urban resiliency in future disasters as well as a welcome people-oriented approach to handling such crises. I was also able to attend a number of lively panel discussions and small-group breakouts on more specific topics in urban resiliency, such as public private partnerships and sustainable urban design. The conference also included numerous opportunities for knowledge-sharing and networking.

In addition to taking in knowledge, I contributed to the range of policies which can enhance urban resiliency. Along with other graduate students, I presented a poster at the forum. My proposal, ‘Performance-Based Pricing for City Parking in the Pacific Rim,’ outlined how large cities, both in the United States as well as in Asia and Latin America, can implement market-based pricing for their public on-street parking supply. Implementing dynamic pricing addresses past urban planning urban mistakes, improves livability by reducing congestion and pollution, and increases cities’ financial resiliency. Enhanced revenue from parking can also be diverted to urban residents without cars, the vast majority of those living in Asia and Latin America.

Overall, visiting Manila and attending the forum was a great experience but also served as a reminder of ongoing challenges for urban resiliency in countries such as the Philippines. While we know much about best practices and can see how well-off residents can ensure resilience in light of climate change and disasters, mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and everyday livability for the average resident of a low or middle income city remains a challenge.

Nathalie Rayes Named MPP Alumna of 2014

Nathalie Rayes MPP ’99 has been named 2014 Alumna of the Year by the Department of Public Policy for her exemplary public service, philanthropy, and professional achievement.

Rayes currently serves as the U.S. National Public Relations Director for Grupo Salinas, a Mexican conglomerate with $6 billion in annual sales and 100,000 employees in Mexico, the United States, and Central and South America, and with operations in the broadcasting, retail, banking and financial services, and telecommunications industries. Rayes is also the Executive Director of Grupo Salinas’ philanthropic arm in the United States, Fundación Azteca America that seeks to improve the quality of life of Latinos by partnering with existing nonprofits to empower, create awareness and motivate change on social and civic issues.

Rayes is a true Bruin, earning her B.A. in sociology with honors. She commenced her public service career working as deputy to then-Los Angeles City Council Member Mike Feuer. With his enthusiastic and glowing recommendation, Rayes was admitted to the UCLA MPP program, where she distinguished herself early in her career. She interned at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo during the summer of 1998 and received an unsolicited outstanding letter of recommendation from the US Ambassador to Egypt. His letter noted her professionalism, resourcefulness and diligence, and was just a foreshadowing of the professional accolades Rayes would receive throughout her career.

Upon completing her Master of Public Policy Degree, Rayes returned to Feuer’s Office as his senior policy advisor. After the Mayoral election she was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, a very influential position in the City, all the more remarkable for someone to attain before the age of 30.

After a distinguished career in public service, Rayes joined Grupo Salinas, where she continues to excel, evidenced by her many honors and accolades. In January 2014, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. Rayes also serves on the Advisory Board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and on the boards of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, Los Angeles Universal Preschool and U.S.–Mexico Chamber of Commerce, and she was one of the founding members of the UCLA Luskin’s MPP Alumni Council.

Rayes’ 2014 MPP Alumna of Year Award is only the latest of many previous distinctions including the 2013 Santa Monica College Distinguished Alumna Recognition Award for Outstanding Professional and Community Service Achievement and the 2012 “Mujeres Destacadas Award,” a recognition given annually by the publication El Diario La Prensa to the most outstanding women in the Latino community. She is also a Fellow of the Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative, the leading cross-sectional leadership development program in the Asia-Pacific region.

Although Rayes resides in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts with her husband, Dr. Tarek Samad, and their young sons, Julian and Alexander, she is eager to return to Los Angeles on Thursday, April 17, to accept her 2014 MPP Alumna of the Year award at the annual MPP Alumni Networking Reception.

Student Report Reflects on Japanese Disaster Preparation

Three years after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Tohoku, Japan, students from all three departments have produced an anthology of personal reflection and academic analysis of the disaster’s impact on the community.

“Telling our Story: UCLA Luskin Japan Trip 2013” collects writing from 22 students in Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning that traveled to the region last year. In a weeklong trip over Spring Break, the students toured disaster sites, examined official and community responses to the tragedy, and documented the country’s progress toward recovery.

“We, the authors, made promises to our sponsors and hosts to never forget Tohoku, and sharing our academic observations and personal experiences here not only immortalizes them but makes them accessible to those who cannot travel to the region themselves,” write the editors — Urban Planning student Vicente Romero, Social Welfare student Elizabeth Schaper and Public Policy student Keitaro Tsuji. “It is our hope that this body of work will help us achieve our promise to increase this region’s global visibility.”

The students also documented their trip in a video piece produced by Public Policy student Dustin Foster.

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.”