By Emily Castelazo
UCLA graduates Anne Youngdahl and Sagarika Subramanian were key players on the research team responsible for publishing the 2019 Sustainable LA Grand Challenge (SLA GC) Environmental Report Card for Los Angeles County Water – the most comprehensive analysis of Los Angeles County’s water systems to date.
As part of its commitment to creating the next generation of sustainability leaders, the SLA GC provided Youngdahl (Class of 2017) and Subramanian (Class of 2016) the unique opportunity to engage with research and serve as co-authors of the report card alongside Cassie Rauser (director of the SLA GC), Mark Gold, (former UCLA associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability and former lead of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge), and Felicia Federico (executive director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability).
As young alumni, both researchers said they are grateful for the opportunity to play a major role in the evolution of the report card and to have their work published, especially in a way that could influence the County’s sustainability efforts.
“UCLA is a hub for research and innovation,” Subramanian said. “The research isn’t just going to get dusty in a corner. It will have real-world policy implications.”
Using data – or the lack thereof – to tell a story
The release of the SLA GC Report Card for Los Angeles County Water in October 2019 signaled the culmination of more than a year of data gathering, analysis, and design.
Youngdahl and Subramanian, along with the team, used data from government agencies and nongovernmental organizations to analyze 20 “indicators” across eight categories, including water supply and consumption, drinking water quality, and beach water quality. “It involved gathering the data from outside sources and organizing it to pull out what part of the story makes sense,” said Youngdahl.
Subramanian and Youngdahl discovered that there is still incomplete data on key indicators of the County’s water sustainability, such as drinking water quality and surface water quality. The report card highlights the unavailability of this data, a finding that could help policymakers and agencies improve monitoring and share information in the future.
How report cards help create a more sustainable Los Angeles
Youngdahl and Subramanian said they hope that their work on the water report card will help push Los Angeles County and its residents to take stock of what needs to be improved.
“The water report card serves as a benchmark of where we are now, and I would hope that it can be repeated as an evaluative tool to use towards monitoring progress,” added Youngdahl. “Los Angeles has some ambitious sustainability goals, and I hope that our actions live up to them.”
Subramanian said she hopes it inspires Angelenos to reduce their own water consumption and pushes policymakers to seriously address the County’s water sustainability.
“Being aware of how far away we source our water from and its energy intensity is really crucial,” said Subramanian. “Hopefully, policymakers look at this report card and realize we’re not making water progress the way we thought we were.”
Meet the co-authors
As an undergraduate at UCLA, Subramanian majored in environmental sciences. She first became involved with the SLA GC as an undergraduate researcher on the 2017 Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Environmental Report Card for Los Angeles County Energy and Air Quality. She is now pursuing a master’s of environmental management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and is interested in a career in energy sustainability and accessibility in developing countries.
As a dance and English major at UCLA, Youngdahl discovered a passion for sustainability issues and research when she enrolled in the SLA GC Undergraduate Research Scholars course. She became involved with the water report card though a summer undergraduate research position, and is continuing her engagement now conducting research for the upcoming SLA GC Report Card on Los Angeles County Ecosystem Health. She is interested in pursuing a graduate program in environmental science.