USC researchers discuss ways to solve water crisis

USC researchers are hoping to play a leading role in solving the water crisis in Los Angeles.

This month, USC held its first ever “Water Retreat.” Run by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the retreat brought together faculty experts from various departments to discuss the problems of the city’s current water infrastructure and to propose solutions that could benefit Los Angeles and eventually the rest of the world.

“We mainly want to look at the acquisition, use and disposal of water,” said David Caron, a marine and environmental biology professor and one of the organizers of the retreat. “We consider Southern California as a microcosm of the water system, and we’re interested in using Los Angeles as a test bed for water use and reuse.”

According to Caron, Los Angeles uses a lot of water, and methods need to be found to acquire water more locally and efficiently.

Some of the main problems researchers discussed were the city’s conservation and reuse of water. According to Caron, nearly one billion of the planet’s inhabitants lack clean water.

The retreat gave researchers a chance to discuss solutions, develop awareness of priorities and formulate strategic recommendations as to how the university can take on a leadership role in Los Angeles.

“Faculty were able to come together and discuss the strengths of water-related research,” said Gaurav Sukhatme, a professor of computer science and one of the retreat’s main organizers. “We all, [as] researchers, look at pieces of the problem, and now this conference allows us to look at the issues jointly.”

Researchers presented possible solutions and ideas related to their specific area of research, including underwater robotics, water distribution systems, climate change, pollution, rainfall patterns and deep ocean research.

According to Caron, the retreat was the first step in assessing the level of interest in water issues among the USC community.

“We are now pursuing funding to expand and develop that interest within the university and to fully assess what expertise is present,” Caron said.

With further conferences planned and ongoing projects underway, USC researchers hope to be able to contribute fundamentally to the solution to several water-related issues. Faculty members are also encouraging students to get involved with water-related research.

“We hope that both graduate and undergraduate students will want to be a part of various research projects on the strengths of water, including relations with robotics and sensing,” Sukhatme said.

The conference was the first in a sequence of meetings that will continue in the future.

“Water is a complex topic, so a sequence of discussions are necessary,” Sukhatme said. “The first meeting went well with bringing together everybody’s strengths, but the next ones will be on focused subjects.”