Crisis as an Opportunity: UCLA and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade host symposium to address water concerns for a warming planet

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“It’s important to awaken all to the seriousness of drought and the lack of rain…the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits and that we need solutions that are elegant.” On January 17 Governor Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency in California. On the other side of the world, Australia suffered through a 12-year drought that ended last year with widespread flooding. The 2012-2013 ‘angry summer’ was the country’s hottest on record and temperatures continue to rise this summer. These parallel challenges make Australia and the U.S. ideal partners on water resource responses. UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, International Institute, Luskin Center for Innovation, and School of Law Environmental Law Center partnered with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs to host a “U.S.-Australian Dialogue on Water — The Coming Water Crisis: Solutions and Strategies” on January 13.

Legislative officials, industry specialists, legal experts, educators and scientists, economists and business executives, and non-profit professionals shared experiences and advanced the conversation on water sustainability. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block provided introductory remarks and Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb delivered the keynote speech. The symposium was part of the G’Day USA program of events that brings together leaders and key influencers in diverse industries to cultivate and enhance the Australia–United States relationship. Conference segments considered coping techniques for arid environments, blueprints for better water management, and new water sources for the future.

Australia and the U.S. – Partners for Water Solutions

Australia and the Southwestern United States’ dry and wet seasons and consistent drought have been impacted by climate change. Technological advancements in both countries will lessen some of the problems brought on by prolonged drought but the real challenge will be reconfiguring development and land use to capture more stormwater, attaining public acceptance, securing political agreement, and investmenting in and using reclaimed wastewater. The event brought together experts on future strategies for drought management in both countries, with specialists on stormwater capture and recycled water. These strategies are being seriously pursued in both countries. Information sharing at the symposium demonstrated the importance of collaboration and knowledge exchange. Political officials from each region point out that a cutting-edge approach to water management in Australia and California could provide across-the-board solutions.

How will Sydney, Perth, and Los Angeles Manage Water in 2050?

Trends in water supply in Australia and California’s major cities were discussed, including how each area plans to manage water differently by mid-century. Luskin Center for Innovation Director J.R. De Shazo said the City of Los Angeles continues to obtain most of its water from imported sources.  De Shazo stated that continuing low snowpack in the Eastern Sierra, statewide water storage well below normal, a court ruling limiting water exports from the Bay-Delta, groundwater contamination in the San Fernando Basin, and uncertain climate change impacts add stress to the city’s water supply. Water supply action strategies will include maximizing water recycling, increasing water conservation, enhancing stormwater capture, accelerating groundwater clean-up, and expanding groundwater storage.

water conf. attendees

Burkle Center for International Relations Director and International Studies Associate Vice Provost Kal Raustiala, Australian Ambassador Kim Beasley, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, and former U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich.

TreePeople President Andy Lipkis, who works in Australia and Southern California, said “Los Angeles has the potential to shift to an integrated approach that also creates jobs and liberates funds for emerging green technologies like rainwater collection systems, phosphorus harvesting toilets, soak wells, rain gardens, and cisterns in homes and schools. All of these technologies can reduce water demand and run-off, improve air and water quality, and mitigate CO2 emissions.”

Water Services Association of Australia Executive Director Adam Lovell said, “An integrated approach creates multiple benefits, including connecting communities to their local area, improving opportunities for aquatic recreation, affordably meeting the demands of a growing population, and minimizing use of energy and resources.” He added that understanding customers can contribute to water sustainability and reliability.

Stormwater Capture for Water Supply by 2050

Optimal stormwater collection will require maximizing catchment yield, quality improvement, and adequate storage in dry seasons. The key task will be the establishment of a more comprehensive economic framework and a whole-of-government approach. Water-sensitive cities require integrated urban water management and governance and new financing strategies, noted Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities CEO Tony Wong.

According to Alf Brandt, legislative director for Assemblyman Anthony Rendon,“The challenges to expanding stormwater capture for water supply are substantial. The major issues are water rights, land use and development and redevelopment patterns, and public health codes for using stormwater and building codes that allow the capture of stormwater.”

Integrating Recycled Water

California has its biggest cities and densest population in the south and on the coast, but the most plentiful rainfall and snowpack are in Northern and Eastern California. With no new imported water supply in sight, the “new” sources are conservation, reclamation, and reuse. Institutional barriers to increasing these sources in the state are water rights laws that restrict the ability of water treatment agencies to sell water, public perception of treated and reclaimed water, and the vested interests in continued reliance on imported water. Reclaimed water is currently used for landscape irrigation, industrial use, construction, and more. Public acceptance and clear public health standards will stimulate more water reclamation and reuse. Water reclamation and reuse is not a technical challenge – it is a societal and economic challenge, according to UCLA Professor Michael Stenstrom. Professor Stenstrom talked about a new approach that uses advanced technology to reduce costs and conserve energy. This method would allow smaller, decentralized wastewater plants to deliver reclaimed water to nearby communities.

Leith Boully, chairman of the Australian Water Recycling Centre for Excellence and Tim Goodes, group executive director of the Government of Australia Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources both emphasized that water recycling has the potential to be a significant future water source in Australia. Success is possible with long-term planning, leadership, affordability, climate resistant and safe products, water recycling schemes, and public and private investment. The Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence is developing a national and international validation framework for consistent assessment of recycled water. Their research shows demonstrated engagement and education programs help the public accept recycled water as a legitimate option. The Centre actively seeks knowledge sharing and collaboration to effectively address shared needs and implementation programs. Community perception and political leadership will determine if recycling can be a major source of future water.

Assistant General Manager of the West Basin Municipal Water District Shivaji Deshmukh described their district’s service area: one million people, 17 cities, and 480 square kilometers. The district’s portfolio includes recycled water, imported water, groundwater, and desalinated ocean water. By 2020 the goal is to shift local supply from 33 percent to 66 percent. Rebates, sprinkler nozzles, and ocean water desalination are a few of the conservation techniques being utilized.

Conference  Agenda & Presentations

Download the conference agenda.

Australia and the U.S. – Partners for Water Solutions

How will Sydney, Perth, and Los Angeles Manage Water in 2050?

Stormwater Capture for Water Supply by 2050

Integrating Recycled Water

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