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Study Identifies Underperforming Water Systems in L.A. County Report and policy guide provide full picture of more than 200 water systems, plus a look at regionwide trends and disparities

By Colleen Callahan

A new study by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) found significant disparities in the quality, affordability and accessibility of water across Los Angeles County. However, the number of health-related water-quality violations in the county is quite low compared to other parts of Southern California, the researchers concluded.

The study evaluated the county’s more than 200 water systems and compared current data to findings published in LCI’s 2015 water atlas. The progress report flags interventions that may be necessary to continue improvements and address persistent problems. Los Angeles County is working with state and federal agencies to respond to several systems that incurred repeated water-quality violations.

A 2012 state law (Assembly Bill 685) establishes that all Californians have the right to safe, affordable and accessible water – referred to as the “human right to water.” Yet this right is not a reality for everyone in L.A. County, due primarily to differences in community water systems that directly provide water to residents and businesses.

“The goal is to give systems operators, regulators and residents the most current and comprehensive picture of water system performance in order to identify what systems are in need of interventions,” said Gregory Pierce, associate director of LCI and lead author on the report. “Despite momentum, urgent attention is needed to address water system problems.” Pierce also teaches urban planning at UCLA Luskin.

System performance overview 
While most systems in L.A. County provide sufficient levels of safe and affordable water to their customers, many small systems – particularly mobile home parks, RV parks and mutual water systems – are most at risk for having technical, managerial and financial challenges that lead to poor outcomes related to quality, affordability and accessibility.

Governance trends
There are fewer active community water systems today than five years ago. The reduction of apparently 10% of systems in L.A. County suggests that some have consolidated, which reflects progress in reducing water system sprawl that results in many small, low-capacity systems at higher risk of un­derperformance.

Quality trends
Compared to other counties in Southern California, the number of health-related water-quality violations in L.A. County is low, particularly on a per capita basis.

Affordability trends
The report found great disparity in how much residents pay for water across systems. For an amount of water sufficient for a family of four, rates today range from $26 to $134 per month.

Accessibility trends
Few systems report producing less than the standard set in the “human right to water” legislation — 55 gallons per person per day. However, systems in San­ta Clarita and Antelope Valley were most likely to face declining groundwater levels. Increasing population, changing precipitation patterns under climate change and other factors pose challenges.

“In addition to the state’s efforts, more regional, local and system-level work will be necessary to ensure the human right to water for all,” said Kyra Gmoser-Daskalakis, a researcher at LCI and co-author of the report.

Career Inspiration for the Next Generation of Leaders

Nicholas Chow, a project manager with the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, shared how he found a career path combining STEM fields and policy during a panel for students from USC Hybrid High School in downtown Los Angeles. The event was sponsored by the nonprofit Pacific Council on International Policy as part of an educational outreach aimed at cultivating the next generation of global leaders. Freshman and sophomores from the school, which serves a predominantly minority population, heard from five speakers who explained the broad policy impact of their work in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Chow talked about his lifelong love of water, which spurred him to travel all over the world and ultimately led him to the Center for Innovation, where he manages water engineering projects. He earned his master’s in civil and environmental engineering at UCLA in 2016. The council’s report on the career panel noted that the students “heard and saw how people who look like them, have the same hair as them, or even grew up in the same kinds of neighborhoods as they did can succeed and thrive in STEM fields.”


 

UCLA to Conduct First-of-Its-Kind Analysis for Drinking Water in California $3 million contract from the state will help reveal water system risks and solutions

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.

 

A Spotlight on Park’s Research on Heat, Learning

PBS NewsHour took an in-depth look at Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research linking extreme heat and students’ ability to learn. Every 1-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average outdoor temperature over a school year reduces student learning by 1 percent, a team of researchers led by Park found. The team’s analysis of weather data, test scores for 10 million students, and access to air conditioning in classrooms across the country point to a “Dixie divide”: In hotter counties in Florida, Texas and other Southern states, test scores were lower than those in the North, even after controlling for factors such as family income, a county’s economic status or local pollution. “The causal effect of any given 90-degree day was much larger for lower-income students and racial minorities,” added Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation. The study puts a spotlight on the nuanced ways that developed nations will be influenced by global warming.

 

Park on Hot Classrooms and the Achievement Gap

R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy, spoke with KPCC’s “Take Two” about his research linking extreme heat with the racial education achievement gap. Students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams, Park and his colleagues found. In addition, black and Hispanic students are 9 percent less likely than white students to attend schools with functioning air conditioning, they found. “We know that that can have effects on the economic opportunities that these students can have access to,” Park told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 23:40. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy. “In the meantime,” he said, “we need to protect the most disadvantaged communities from the effects of climate change that are already coming down the pike.” Park’s research was also highlighted in USA Today and the Washington Post.


 

UCLA Luskin Professor Launches Organization to Fill Research Gap at EPA JR DeShazo co-chairs committee of environmental economists who will advise agency on social costs and benefits of its policies

Policies on air pollution, climate change and water have far-reaching effects on millions of Americans and businesses. Is the Environmental Protection Agency ─ the federal agency whose mission is to protect public health and the environment ─ using the best available economic science when designing and proposing these policies? The newly created External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee (E-EEAC) will convene nationally recognized environmental economists to ensure that the EPA has access to the most advanced research.

“Our mission is to provide independent, state-of-the-science advice with regard to the benefits, costs and design of the EPA’s environmental programs,” said JR DeShazo, professor in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who co-chairs the new research organization.

The E-EEAC formed following the dissolution in 2018 of the original Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, which had operated for more than 25 years within the EPA’s science advisory board structure. Like its predecessor, the E-EEAC consists of economists who apply their expertise to analyze the impact of environmental policies.

“The members believe that, despite the retirement of the internal committee, advances in economic research remain crucial to achieving welfare-enhancing environmental policies,” said Mary Evans, professor at Claremont McKenna College and E-EEAC co-chair. “The E-EEAC is especially needed now given the large number of regulatory modifications that EPA has, and will shortly, propose related to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act.”

These policy changes will impact millions of Americans and firms, along with our ecosystems. The E-EEAC’s intent is to operate until the EPA reconstitutes an internal environmental economics advisory committee composed of independent economists. Many of the members of the original committee are now part of E-EEAC, including the co-chairs.

The EPA must comply with statutes and executive orders that explicitly require the agency to assess the costs, benefits and impacts of regulations. Economic expertise and analysis guide this compliance and enhance the quality of public debate about new regulations.

The E-EEAC is structured to provide independent advice from experts in the field of environmental economics. Functioning as a nonpartisan research organization, the E-EEAC intends to make all of its deliberations and findings easily accessible to the EPA and the public.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation have contributed funding to support this endeavor. The Sloan Foundation is a nonprofit philanthropic organization that makes grants primarily to support original research and education related to science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economics. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is a policy-oriented research center uniting UCLA scholars with civic leaders to solve environmental challenges confronting our community, nation and world.

Urban Planning Professor and Alumna Honored

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and alumna Carolina Martinez MA UP ’09 were honored for their work advocating for stronger, healthier communities during the American Planning Association’s recent national conference in San Francisco. Martinez, policy director at the Environmental Health Coalition, and the Paradise Creek Planning Partnership were awarded one of the highest honors, the 2019 National Planning Excellence Award in Advancing Diversity & Social Change. Martinez worked with low-income communities of color in National City, California, to create a comprehensive community plan to clean up the toxic environment near their homes and provide affordable housing near transit. The creation of the Paradise Creek apartments demonstrates that community-based planning can bring about environmental justice. As the principal investigator of UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation’s “SMART Parks: A Toolkit,” Loukaitou-Sideris was awarded the National Planning Achievement Award for Best Practice-Silver. The toolkit equips park managers, designers and advocates with a centralized guide to improve parks and shows that that good planning can increase efficiency that benefits the community overall. “I’m delighted by the department’s awards at the 2019 National Planning Conference,” Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija said. “They demonstrate the excellence of our students and faculty members and are a testament of the department’s commitment to the profession.” Mukhija led UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s delegation at the conference, where nearly 6,500 experts from planning, government, higher education and allied professions shared their knowledge and insights.


 

Gore, DeShazo Share Insights on California’s Climate Leadership Luskin Center for Innovation director joins environment champion and Nobel laureate at global Climate Reality leadership training

By Stan Paul

‘We’re going to win this. … Have no doubt about that, we will win this.’
— Al Gore

More than 2,200 people eager to learn how to make a difference in the future of the planet came together at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the largest-ever Climate Reality Leadership Corps training led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Participants from California, the United States and more than 50 countries took part in the three-day training session that began Aug. 28, 2018, and included working with the best-selling author of An Inconvenient Truth — and subject of the Oscar-winning documentary. They heard from world-renowned scientists, communicators and other experts about how to work together to find solutions to the global climate crisis by influencing public opinion and policy and encouraging action in their own communities.

“In the United States we have a tremendous amount of climate denial. We have a president who is a bitter opponent right now of addressing climate change,” said Ken Berlin, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Climate Reality Project, in his opening remarks.

The purpose of the ongoing series of trainings, held worldwide starting in 2016, is to develop a critical mass of activists to ensure there is enough support for addressing the climate crisis, Berlin said before introducing Gore, who appeared on stage to a standing ovation.

Joining Gore on the first panel of the day, “California’s Roadmap for Climate Change,” was JR DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and other experts including Fran Pavley, former member of the California State Senate, and Veronica Garibay, co-founder and co-director of the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

“Here we are again at a time when our national government is … disappointing so many of us. Once again California is stepping forward,” Gore said in his opening remarks.

Citing California as a national leader and example to other states in addressing the environment and climate change, Gore started the conversation by asking DeShazo, “What is it about California that has led this state to be such a driven leader on climate policies?”

“I think California understands how important historically it was to deal with its air quality challenges,” said DeShazo, Public Policy chair at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “And so, in the ’60s and ’70s the state developed this robust set of state agencies to tackle that problem in the energy sector and the transportation sector,” he said.

DeShazo credited state leadership, including Sen. Pavley, with passing legislation that allowed those agencies to shift attention, “with all their expertise and authority, to attack climate change in a very comprehensive way.”

Gore also asked DeShazo to cite examples of the state “breaking up the problem … and addressing those elements in an intelligent way.”

“We decarbonized electricity while making appliances more efficient. We introduced the low-carbon fuel standard in the transportation sector, making transportation fuels lower-carbon while making vehicles more efficient and pushing for electric vehicles. So there was a broad-based scoping plan that really covers all of the relevant carbon-generating sectors of the state,” DeShazo said. He also credited state leadership that was “based upon a California that wanted to take responsibility for its emissions.”

DeShazo, who also holds appointments with UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and UCLA’s civil and environmental engineering departments, recalled that during the nationwide recession California voters rejected a ballot initiative to halt the state’s climate policies.

“We said ‘no,’ ” he said, explaining, “We want to continue with the commitment that the legislature had made on our behalf. … I think that is really evidence of California’s commitment.”

More recently, DeShazo said, a “second generation” of climate policies in California has focused on environmental justice. “There’s a clean vehicles program, and there’s one for low-income consumers, there’s a weatherization program and there’s one for disadvantaged communities,” he said. A significant portion of the $2 billion a year generated by cap and trade is reinvested to benefit disadvantaged communities, he added. This year, the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is part of two partnership grants that will benefit disadvantaged communities in particular. The grants ─ awarded by California’s Strategic Growth Council ─ total more than $4 million.

As a result of all of this, the state is making progress. “We’re on track to reach the goal of 50 percent renewable energy in 2020, 10 years ahead of schedule in reaching this goal,” DeShazo said. “And that’s terrific because we need to electrify the transportation sector, and we’re committed to that and that’s where a lot of the heavy lifting still awaits us.”

View more photos from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training on Flickr.

New Grants Totaling $4.1 Million Will Build Climate Resilience UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation is a partner in two climate research grants from the Strategic Growth Council

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.

 

California Entering Decade of Disruption, as Power System Shifts Dramatically

Communities across California have formed Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) at a rapid rate since 2010, with over half of them starting within the last two years. County and city governments administer CCAs as local alternatives to investor-owned utilities. “The Growth of Community Choice Aggregation: Impacts to California’s Grid,” a new report produced by Next 10 and written by JR DeShazo, Julien Gattaciecca and Kelly Trumbull MPP ’17 of UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, finds that if current growth trends continue, CCAs may serve a majority of California’s power consumers within the next 10 years, transforming California’s retail electricity sector. According to the report, the rise of CCAs has both direct and indirect positive effects on overall renewable energy consumed in California, helping contribute to the state meeting its 2030 RPS targets approximately 10 years in advance. Even with such an important impact on the penetration of renewable energies, CCAs’ effects on the grid have been negligible so far. This is in part because when a CCA starts, it handles the needs of existing electric customers, and often gets power from existing power plants. In the long term, though, CCAs’ impact on the grid depends on their energy procurement strategies and their local investments. “The public and local nature of CCAs positions them to implement local energy programs that will help to reduce or shift energy consumption, benefiting the grid as well as their customers,” DeShazo said.

 

Photo by iStock / oveguli