Ecosystem Service-Based Strategies for Optimizing Natural Treatment of Stormwater in Southern California

Research > Current Projects > Ecosystem Service-Based Strategies for Optimizing Natural Treatment of Stormwater in Southern California


Lisa A. Levin, Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography


There is urgent need for low energy, multi-disciplinary, and multi-benefit approaches to sustaining adequate water resources. Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of southern California droughts, magnifying the California water crisis and allowing contaminants to accumulate. These contaminants can enter ponds, streams, wetlands, and the coastal ocean where they can cause waterborne illnesses and poison marine life.

Current approaches for improving water quality and enhancing water supply are energy and capital intensive. NTS are low-energy alternatives that are designed to use natural processes to remove contaminants (trace metals, organic compounds, and pathogens) and enhance infiltration to groundwater. They not only provide the above mentioned water services, but are also associated with a host of ecosystem services. 

These services create value for society and should be accounted for when making urban planning and regulation decisions. A substantial portion of southern California’s water demand could be offset by identifying locations that would benefit the most from a specific category of NTS and employing a diverse array of capture and treatment systems across the urban landscape.


The long-term goal of this project is to develop a framework to incorporate the full value of natural treatment systems (NTS) into decision-making of urban planners, developers, and regulators. This will be achieved by developing tools to optimize the processes that improve water quality, enhance water supply, and provide important ecosystem services.

Specific objectives of this proposal are to:
  • Develop a template for quantifying water infiltration, contaminant removal, and water storage services of NTS in Los Angeles. We will evaluate categories of Los Angeles NTS and choose representative NTS for each for application of the template, using UC San Diego NTS as training sites.
  • Identify the market and non-market ecosystem services each NTS category provides and estimate potential rates of functions and processes based on existing data and the literature.
  • Estimate the value of services provided by each NTS category using economic tools. (4) Conduct cost-benefit analysis of each NTS category to compare to non-natural alternatives that treat stormwater in transit to the coastal ocean.


Read the summary project proposal

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  • USC Sea Grant
  • 3454 Trousdale Pkwy, CAS 200
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0373
  • (213) 740 - 1961