Case Study: Los Angeles

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Water, Case Studies (Part 2)

February 7, 2015

The Los Angeles session brought together four experts in policy, geography, and design to explore the supply and delivery of water in the country’s most populous county.

Hadley Arnold provides an overview of the specific challenges that Los Angeles faces as a semi-arid city dependent on snow melt from the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains for its water supply. An astonishing 20 percent of California’s energy budget is devoted to the capture, delivery, and treatment of water, prompting Arnold to advocate for getting more value out of each drop of water. She proposes building a “water conversant citizenry” that can speak to water supply issues; focusing on the city, neighborhood, and building scales of the water system; and using design as a bridge between science and policy in climate adaptation.

Josh Newell’s talk (09:21), “A Political-Industrial Ecology of Water Supply for Los Angeles,” applies geographic information systems and spatial thinking to life cycle assessments of the carbon footprint of the city’s water supply. This approach allows for an understanding of the convoluted supply system on a smaller scale, revealing sometimes surprising results — including that local supply sources can be more energy intensive than those coming from distant sources.

Exploring how to design a more climate- and energy-friendly water supply, Peter Arnold(24:05) introduces HAZEL, a new computation and visualization tool currently being piloted that can identify previously untapped water resources in arid urban centers and be used to devise community-scale infrastructure to improve the efficiency of capturing and recycling stormwater. HAZEL offers a multi-criteria systems approach to identifying specific locations for stormwater resource recovery and will eventually be made into a publicly accessible tool for everyone from municipal public works departments to designers.

Stephanie Pincetl, in “The Institutional Architecture of Water Management in Los Angeles County” (32:15), details the incredibly complicated governance of water for the county’s ten million people and 88 cities. She explores the region’s adjudicated and unadjudicated groundwater basins and an evolving network of rights holders to unpack the management of water supply and delivery. She offers an optimistic conclusion: “the take-home message is really that there is plenty of water,” and the focus needs to be on how that system is managed, who gets the water, and under what conditions is it supplied.

In a closing discussion (49:53), the four speakers came back together to discuss and debate their research.

Architects Hadley and Peter Arnold are co-founders and co-directors of the Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University, whose mission is to “design innovation at the nexus of water, energy, and climate change.”

Geographer Josh Newell leads the Urban Sustainability Research Group in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.

Stephanie Pincetl is Director and Professor-in-Residence of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Water, a symposium on issues of water supply in the context of climate change, examined case studies on Los Angeles, the Great Lakes region, and New York City. The event was organized by The Architectural League and The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design in February 2015.

The Five Thousand Pound Life (5KL) is an initiative of The Architectural League on new ways of thinking, talking, and acting on architecture, climate change, and our economic future.