Posts

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.

 

Pierce Joins Radio Show to Discuss Discolored Drinking Water in Compton

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.”


 

Respect for Nature Is Key to World’s Water Problems, Author Says

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:

Cycle of Water and Prosperity

Water Justice for Mobile Home Residents UCLA Luskin School study highlights substandard water service and quality in California’s mobile home parks

By Stan Paul

Gregory Pierce

Although California officially recognizes the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for all citizens, the Human Right to Water law passed in 2012 has no teeth, according to Urban Planning researchers at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

In a new study, co-authors Gregory Pierce MA UP ’11 PhD ’15 and Silvia González MURP ’13 looked at drinking water access and quality in mobile home parks, a significant but often overlooked segment of the California population.

“Right now, I don’t think state and local policymakers are focusing nearly enough attention on this issue,” said Pierce, an adjunct assistant professor of urban planning and a senior researcher on water and transportation initiatives at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

The study, published this month in the journal Environmental Justice, is titled “Public Drinking Water System Coverage and its Discontents: The Prevalence and Severity of Water Access Problems in California’s Mobile Home Parks.” Co-author González, who has collaborated with Pierce on a number of drinking water-related studies, is a doctoral student in urban planning and assistant director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin.

Although some existing research broadly suggests that water service and quality in the state’s mobile home parks is substandard, Pierce and González said that a lack of literature and targeted studies on the subject spurred their research, which is based on a range of quantitative and qualitative sources, including more than 1,300 news reports related to mobile home water access.

Silvia Gonzalez

The study concluded that mobile home parks are:

  • likely to incur more health-related violations than other systems
  • four times more likely to experience a significant service shutoff (more than 24 hours)
  • 40 percent more likely to rely on groundwater, a known risk for reliability and quality

In their report, the authors said they were surprised to find that available data on water system reliability suggests that mobile home parks in California are as likely as the general population to be served by community water systems. The authors pointed out that mobile home parks are more likely to have small water systems, a characteristic well-documented to diminish access.

“This demonstrates that any deficiencies in water service in parks are indeed problems for which the public sector maintains oversight and authority to rectify,” the researchers said in the study.

Pierce and González also found that evidence on affordability was less conclusive, but it suggested that the cost of drinking water could pose an “outsized” burden on some mobile home park residents who, because of reliability and quality, may purchase bottled water, which is more expensive than alternative water sources.

Pierce, who presented the study findings at the 2017 Water and Health Conference held Oct. 16-20 at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said that he hopes progress will be made in the coming years, “but the trend is not promising at this point.”

“The key message I tried to convey is that access issues faced by mobile home park water systems reflect inequities both in the governance of drinking water systems more generally and in landlord-tenant relations in mobile home parks,” Pierce said. “A lot of the issues faced by tenants are caused by landlord neglect.”

González pointed out that, specifically in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets, residents also experience the pressures of gentrification and displacement.

“As manufactured housing becomes an increasingly important affordable housing option, policymakers need to ensure these residents aren’t being put at a disproportionate health risk, and address accessibility and affordability issues when they are,” González said.

The article is available online.

Save Every Drop While We Still Can International water expert Brian Richter joins California government officials for a panel at UCLA Luskin that stresses urgent need to conserve in an increasingly drought-plagued world

By Aaron Julian

“Every Californian should think about water the same way they think about electricity — you just don’t waste it.”

This sentiment expressed by Debbie Franco of the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is typical of the conservation advice offered by a panel of water experts during a Feb. 22, 2017, presentation at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Spearheading the discussion was Brian Richter, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Chasing Water.” Richter outlined the historical relationship between humanity and water. He also explained his ideas to formulate a “water market” that would monetarily encourage responsible water usage on the personal, industrial and governmental levels.

“Disruption needs to happen more on the governmental level,” said Richter about the best approach to lessen overuse and foster more cooperation between city, local and state governments regarding an ongoing world water crisis. An example of intergovernmental partnerships is San Diego’s annual $60-million investment to encourage smarter water use by farmers in the Imperial Irrigation District in return for access to a third of the city’s water supply.

The Luskin Center for Innovation’s Greg Pierce led a question and answer session with the panelists regarding water conservation policy. Photo by Les Dunseith

Water is especially important for California governments and residents in light of the historic drought affecting the region. During a question and answer session led by the Luskin Center for Innovation’s Greg Pierce MA U.P. ’11 UP PhD ’15, panelists discussed how to keep momentum toward sustainable water systems despite recent downpours estimated at about 19 total inches of rain — equal to about 27 billion gallons of water.

Franco argued that the solution to the water issue needs to go beyond collaborative government — it has to become a way of life.

“One of the key elements that we are missing in California are folks that understand water,” she said. “We need people to feel like they are water managers in their own home. That’s an important first step toward a thriving and active participation in local government.”

She said such participation helps propel effective action at all levels. Richter added that “77 percent of all Americans have absolutely no idea where their water comes from.”

He noted a core argument of his book, that in order to have a fully active and informed citizenry, the science and policy communities need to fully understand water themselves.

Panelist Liz Crosson from the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office told the large crowd that attended the session that Los Angeles has instituted a Save the Drop campaign in partnership with the mayor’s fund, working to reach a 20 percent reduction from the 103 gallon per day of water usage per capita in the city. Even if successful, that mark is well short of Australia’s average of 50 gallons per day as noted by Richter in his book and lecture.

The city’s plan involves combating water illiteracy in combination with incentives and restrictions on water use. The city has also updated its rate structure to be more compatible with different socioeconomic brackets.

Still, Crosson warned, “Here in L.A., just because it is raining does not mean our water supply is in much better shape. We are trying to change that, but that’s a long time coming. This is now about a Californian way of life.”

Panelist Angela George of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works said she believes the most effective methodology would be a campaign to instill in children the techniques and habits of water conservation. “It is important to get into our schools and educate where our water comes from — a local perspective.”

Amid a crowd that included UCLA Luskin students and faculty as well as interested members of the community, passions sometimes ran high, with some questioning whether current efforts and ideas are sufficient to truly improve water conservation.

Panelists noted the importance of individuals working closely with local government in order to push for reforms they want to see.

“You have to find out how to mobilize the political wherewithal,” Franco said. “Show up and know what’s going on, and keep telling what you want.”

The lecture and panel discussion were put together by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation in partnership with Island Press as part of a speaker series known as Luskin Innovators.