SoCal Running Dry | Caltech's Response

John Onderdonk, California Institute of Technology
Gabriel Cervantes, SmithGroupJJR

Southern California's drought is in its fourth year, 2014 will go down as the hottest year on record, and this arid region's traditional and backup water sources are on the brink of depletion. Simply stated, this is a water crisis that will have lasting effects on every laboratory facility in the region. Unfortunately, other than hoping for consecutive years of record rainfall, there is no concrete solution on the horizon. This presentation comprises two parts. Part one will highlight Southern California's water history, current crisis, and pending legislation that will affect water use. Of particular concern to laboratory owners and managers is that the governing water authority, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which imports supplies from Northern California and the Colorado River, is expected to announce in April 2015 an allocated regional water delivery approach that will have a ripple effect throughout the Southland as local agencies react, probably by increasing water rates and adopting stronger conservation measures. Part two will focus on the California Institute of Technology, a prestigious, laboratory-intensive Southern California university that continues to address water conservation by implementing various common and innovative measures throughout the campus. In an effort to reduce risk and ensure long-term viability, Caltech is actively working to responsibly steward water resources by focusing on efficiency, cultivating climate adapted landscape, minimizing potable water use and maximizing use of reclaimed water. Overall, Part two will focus on Caltech's efforts to holistically manage water at the campus scale through building retrofits, capital projects and the optimization of power plant and industrial waste water processes.

Learning Objectives

  • Attendees will identify water shortage issues (history, geography, infrastructure) affecting Southern California.
  • Attendees will acquire an understanding of how state-wide legislation will affect the region's laboratory facilities both near and long term.
  • Attendees will also acquire an understanding of how local water agencies are addressing water shortages.
  • Finally, presenting the California Institute of Technology, attendees will identify water conservation technologies, strategies, and underlying motivational factors behind their use.


John Onderdonk, director of sustainability programs, California Institute of Technology, is responsible for strategic planning to improve environmental performance in the areas of energy, climate, water, waste, supply chain, transportation and bldg. infrastructure. Mr. Onderdonk has a Masters in corporate environmental management from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, University of California, Santa Barbara, and, a B.S. in environmental science and economics, University of Oregon.

Gabriel Cervantes, AIA, LEED AP B+C, senior project manager with SmithGroupJJR, Los Angeles, has over 20 years of professional experience with an emphasis on research facilities. Whereas all projects he undertakes are designed for highest levels of sustainability, he is ultimately in pursuit of creating net zero energy buildings. Mr. Cervantes received a B.A. in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Master of Architecture from the University of California, Los Angeles.


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