Topic “Sustainable Water”

Sustainable Water

Advancing policy, economic, and technological solutions that support sustainable water systems and water use behavior in California.

The UCLA Luskin Center’s Sustainable Water initiative (formerly called Smart Water Systems) focuses on several, inter-related areas:

1. Enhancing household access to safe, affordable drinking water;

2. Providing analytical tools to identify water system vulnerabilities and support opportunities; 

3. Informing policies which facilitate healthy levels of household drinking water consumption and conservation behavior; 

4. Strengthening the water-energy nexus and non-traditional waters technology adaptation; and

5. Urban greening and eco-system valuation.

For more information, please contact initiative lead Gregory Pierce, project manager Kelsey Jessup, or center director J.R. DeShazo.

Enhancing Household Access to Safe, Affordable Drinking Water

The primary project in this area addresses the growing problem of household affordability
for drinking water service in California. In a two-year project authorized by CA Assembly Bill 401 and sponsored by the State Water Resources Control Board, we are conducting research to inform alternative policy designs for a state-wide Low-Income Rate Assistance program. A related forthcoming discussion paper outlines California’s current and envisioned support policies which may be employed to achieve the goals associated with human right to water, which the state enshrined with CA Assembly Bill 685. This analysis synthesizes the benefits and tradeoffs between designing state policies which support poorly-performing water systems and policies which directly support disadvantaged households with sub-standard water access.

Another stream of research supporting household access attempts to quantify the under-examined relationship between water security and socioeconomic disadvantage in U.S. mobile home parks, which represent a substantial proportion of the national and state housing stock. The first results of a national analysis have been published in Housing Policy Debate and covered on National Public Radio's Marketplace show. A follow-on study focusing on the scope of the problem in California, and viable policy responses, is in development.

In the international context, Dr. Pierce is overseeing the work of four undergraduate students who evaluated a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) intervention in rural Uganda, in collaboration with local NGO Mpoma and GlobeMed.

Providing analytical tools to identify water system vulnerabilities and support opportunities

The second stream of our work provides comprehensive drinking water system assessment, both for state policy makers to target disadvantaged community needs and for
local policy makers to embrace regional collaboration opportunities. We have comprehensively
characterized LA County’s 213 drinking water systems’ supply vulnerabilities, at-risk populations, conservation opportunities, and customer assistance programs in the Los Angeles County Community Water Systems Atlas. We further explored the issue of affordability and discovered enormous disparities in cost across the county's systems, as illustrated in a recent policy brief

We are currently extending this work to establish a water market for the county which will enhance reliance on local water sources, unlock financing for green infrastructure, strengthen system resilience, and reduce existing price disparities. This work is supported by the UCLA Grand Challenges Initiative

Informing policies which facilitate healthy levels of household drinking water consumption and conservation behavior

By request of the City of Los Angeles, we have conducted an analysis of the city's turf replacement program's impacts on households and ratepayers. The full report of this study will be posted soon.

In a separate project area, we are studying the issue of household (mis)perception of drinking water, and its implications for household health, household welfare, water systems, and the environment. A research paper assessing the determinants of household drinking water perception across the U.S. has recently been published by Water Policy. We are also conducting a state-wide analysis of neighborhoods which rely on retail water stores instead of public water systems, and the affordability impacts of this reliance. 

Strengthening the water-energy nexus and non-traditional waters technology adaptation

Scenarios for recycled-water dependent electricity sector are needed to create a foundation for water-energy decision making in California for climate change adaptation planning in the electricity  sector. In an upcoming project funded and managed by the CERC-WET collaborative, we will develop scenarios for California’s electricity generation sector that involve a high degree of reliance on recycled water, and evaluate a range of potential contract structurse between recycled water suppliers and thermal power costumers.

The Center has a long history of supporting a broad suite of research to overcome barriers to non-traditional waters technology (graywater reuse/recycling, stormwater capture, etc.). Recent publications, authored by past initiative staff and current Center scholars such as Yoram Cohen, have focused on the potential for on-site residential graywater recycling, including in Water Environment Research and the American Water Works Association.

Urban greening and eco-system valuation

In recent years, momentum has grown significantly around visions for a complete, comprehensive and accessible Los Angeles River greenway. This would include a network along the entire 51 River miles of pathways and bridges for walking, biking, and equestrian use; adjacent parks and other green spaces; and neighborhood access points. Several local grassroots and government organizations have blazed a trail, despite significant obstacles, to create accessible opportunities for healthy recreation and active mobility along the River. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation collaborated with these forward-looking organizations to document their projects as case studies and distill practical lessons in a publically accessible how-to format. 

The UC Multicampus Research Programs Initiative has funded the Center's involvement in a project entitled Fighting Drought With Stormwater: From Research to Practice over the period 2017-2019. In this project a transdisciplinary team of senior, mid-career, and early-career researchers from the five southern California UC campuses will join forces to revolutionize the form and function of urban stormwater infrastructure in Southern California and beyond, transforming it from a leading cause of environmental degradation into a multi-functional green system that augments urban water supply, protects human and ecosystem health, minimizes flood risk, and ensures public safety. 


Forthcoming and Recent Events

January 2017: Presentation at Water Resources Student Group 
October 2016: Presentations at the UNC Water and Health Conference

Graduate Student Researchers
Larry Lai; Nicholas Chow


David Talbot’s article “Desalination out of Desperation” (MIT Technology Review Vol. 118...

As part of the IOES/Luskin lunch series on Nov. 7, 2011, Yoram Cohen, Luskin Center scholar and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, gave participants a sneak peek into the future of distributed smart water system technology, their use, and implications.

As posted in Cleantech Investment Insights, Mia Javier provides an overview of opportunities for smart water systems as well as the challenges to scaling up the companies that can bring these innovations to the market.


Developing strategies to spur renewable energy and energy efficiency in California.
Advancing policy, economic, and technological solutions that support sustainable water systems and water use behavior in California.
Supporting the transition to electric-drive, alternative-fuel, and autonomous vehicles through innovative research and decision support.
Enhancing the role of information and communications technologies in the 21st century.
Strengthening state and local governments' capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

Initiative Archives

Progressing health and environmental safety assessment and protection in the field of engineered nanomaterials.
Supporting the dissemination of clean technologies and the greening of other sectors.