This NRT-INFEWS: Integrated Urban Solutions for Food, Energy, and Water Management combines research, education, and communication training to educate future leaders towards delivering comprehensive solutions to food, energy, and water systems (FEWS) challenges in urban systems under the pressures of global climate change. This program is unique in its focus on addressing the critical interdependence among food, energy, and water in the urban environment. We propose to train students in cutting-edge science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and education as well as to analyze scientific and technological advancements from economic, policy, and legal points of view. This integrated interdisciplinary training is designed towards the delivery and implementation of innovative and game-changing science and technologies with local and global applications in industrialized and developing nations.

By 2030, 60% of the world’s population – 5 billion people – will live in cities, an increase of 1.4 billion people from today. This means that the supply of large amounts of food, water, and energy from places far from urban centers – where they are consumed (or wasted) – has to be accommodated. Moreover, in the U.S., 25-50% of the food produced is wasted, totaling $165 billion every year. Food waste alone corresponds to 25% of the total annual freshwater consumption, and 2.5% of the total energy budget of the country. The complex problems of providing sustainable supplies of food, energy, and water for growing cities are inherently inseparable. The food-energy-water nexus will become increasingly central in socio-economic and urban planning decisions. Legislation and planning often fail to address the inherent relation between the sustainable production of food and energy and access to freshwater. This relationship is particularly critical in the Southwestern U.S., where food production, energy, and water have become co-limiting development factors. For example, California is the most populated state and the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the nation. Here, 80% of freshwater is used for food production far from urban centers, and nearly 20% of the state’s total energy consumption is spent on moving and treating water from the Sacramento Delta and the Sierra Nevada mountains to population centers in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Southland (Los Angeles (LA), San Diego). California faces recurring droughts, and unprecedented state and municipal legislation have imposed conservation measures and agricultural water rationing. The greater LA area is the second urban center in the nation with a growing population of 10 million people. The city imports nearly 90% of its water from hundreds of miles away, and its food shed spans 200 miles, 10 counties, and affects 22 million people. What’s more, between 2002-2007, 10% of Southern California’s agricultural land was lost to development, despite benefiting from excellent weather conditions for food production.

Meeting the challenges faced by global urban centers, like LA, requires an interdisciplinary approach developed in concert with informed public policies and laws with an urban and global perspective. An understanding of these crucial links is essential for leaders in science, technology, government, and industry. Unfortunately, the intimate connection between FEWS is not intuitive and there exists a void in the workforce and leadership with such broad technical, economic, and social perspectives. In particular, graduate studies are typically conceived to offer a high degree of specialization in a specific and often narrow field of study. This results in silo mentality and may limit innovations and the formulation of comprehensive and sustainable solutions to complex societal problems such as those related to FEWS in urban systems. UCLA is not exempt from this mind-set. This NRT program will break down the organizational barriers between disciplines and campus units through the collaborative development of meaningful and lasting graduate training and education in FEWS by leveraging resources available at UCLA and using UCLA and LA as testbeds.