Snapshot on Sustainability: Finding Water Resilience at 2℃

Photo credit: Nico Marques

In the world of sustainable architecture we are heading into a steep incline and the 2  Symposium on Climate Change was the perfect place to orient my trajectory and prepare for our future. On March 1, 2019 the American Institute of Architect’s Committee on the Environment, Los Angeles (COTE LA) hosted the day long symposium at the LADWP building in downtown Los Angeles. The monumental topic of Climate Change was broken down into three categories; Carbon, Energy and Water and then organized into multiple platforms ranging from keynote speakers to lunchtime roundtable sessions. For me this well-rounded event packed with crucial information for making our building industry better is what made 2 so unique and impactful.

For me the most influential topic of the symposium was Water. Most of the water in Southern California is imported and if you are thinking about the recent rains dissolving our concerns about drought you should understand that we cannot rely on erratic weather events to provide stable sources of water throughout the year. Snowpack from the Sierras is supplemented with water from the Colorado River, via an aqueduct, to provide over 50% of the water for Southern California. The amount of snow in the Sierras directly affects our wellbeing. Southern California imports the remaining majority of the water from the Owens River, Mono Lake Basin and reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada Mountains whereas only approximately 11% of our water is sourced locally through groundwater capture. Southern California is not alone; 2.1 billion people lack immediate access to drinking water worldwide. The Los Angeles of the future needs to realign the percentages of water sources to be more local and less imported in order to build a water resilient city.

Photo credit: Nico Marques

Right before the launch of 2℃, Mayor Garcetti announced that by 2035 the Hyperion Treatment Plant will be upgraded to allow for the recycling of wastewater and therefore reducing our reliance on imported water. The City of Los Angeles has made major advancements with the publication of the One Water 2040 Plan. One Water LA has targeted reducing our dependence on imported water down to 50% and increase local water access up to 50%. The task is a large and complex problem and the documents are broken into 10 volumes that cover everything from ‘Stormwater and Urban Runoff Facilities Plans’ to a ‘LA River Flow Study’.  For detailed objectives at a building scale, Architects may look to the free online publication for ‘Onsite Non-potable water reuse’. 95% of the water demand for commercial and up to 50% of the water demand in Multi-Family Residential is Non-Potable water. Capturing that water and reusing it would be yet another strong step in the right direction for a water resilient Los Angeles.

The most unique part of 2 was when David Hertz took the stage and shared with us his Xprize winning project, Sky Source, that creates clean drinking water from thin air. Yes, I said this device makes water from air! It is a mobile device that provides a solution for those that lack access to water and at the same time it could be an emergency response unit that, once delivered to a region impacted by a natural disaster, would remain there in the community and provide long term access to safe, clean drinking water.

As the moderator for the panel and Vice Chair of the AIA COTE LA committee, I was humbled by the opportunity to meet many well-educated individuals who were open and forthcoming with information and fortunate to have work with many talented and dedicated COTE LA committee members. If you missed the symposium, I hope you take note and flag your calendar for 2020. COTE LA will continue the good work and provide another great symposium that is in sync with the 2020 AIA National Convention to be held in Los Angeles, CA.

Please join the conversation by leaving your thoughts below.

About the Author

James (JED) DonaldsonJED is a Principal at Johnson Fain, an architecture, planning and interior design firm known for its creative approach to the built environment. His commitment to green building technologies has led to speaking engagements and leadership positions with a number of organizations including Berkeley, USC, AIA COTE LA, USGBC and Passive House California. In addition to publishing and teaching JED is working on several large mixed use developments such as a 41 story tower in downtown Los Angeles, a 25 story tower in Hollywood and a low-rise, four building development in Sherman Oaks, California.

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