Recovering from the Station Fire requires our healing hands

Fire and WaterBrush and forest fires are a part of Los Angeles' natural ecosystem, and we’ve grown accustomed to —indeed sometimes complacent about — the annual cycle of panic, evacuations, loss of property, and the mudslides and flooding that follow.

But the Station Fire is different.

The unprecedented magnitude of this fire — the largest in the history of the county— may have compromised the Angeles National Forest’s ability to continue to provide the LA Basin with up to 35% of its water, and protection from floods, for years to come.

Fire recovery is usually the job of government. But this time, because of the magnitude of this event, ordinary citizens have a huge role to play in helping to heal the damage and respond to the immediate threats to our well-being. TreePeople is preparing to help with this massive response, and not only in the mountains where, when the time is right, we'll work with the Forest Service to plant in areas that are most severely damaged or where the flood threat is greatest.

And, surprisingly, the action we need to take is also around our homes and neighborhoods throughout the city.

Here's why.

The Station Fire leaves Southern Californians more vulnerable to continued drought and severe weather because it compounds the problem of our already over-stressed city water supply.

The mid-term loss of our region’s upper watershed — the Angeles National Forest — is even more serious because of the long-term loss of the watershed functionality of the land on which our city is built. To heal the overall environment and protect millions of us against drought and flooding, we need to take action in the urban landscape. We need to plant the urban forest as well as restore critically damaged areas in the mountains.

What do I mean by the loss of watershed functionality? As a young city, Los Angeles was able to supply most of the water it needed from rainfall, which soaked into natural underground aquifers. Now, after decades of development, most of the rain falls on land that is sealed with buildings, concrete and asphalt surfaces and then runs off to the ocean, thus hemorrhaging what could be a major portion of our water supply. To replace that water, we must import the vast majority of it from great distances. This has proven to be hugely costly and energy intensive. The "water lift" over the Tehachapi Pass is the highest in the world, and powering the pumps necessary for the task is the single largest user of electricity in the entire state.

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to restore our urban water supply, according to a major new study from the Natural Resources Defense Council and others, is with rainwater harvesting, using a suite of both low-tech and engineered solutions called "low impact development." This includes planting trees, reducing impervious surfaces, slowing, spreading, and sinking rainwater into the land, and installing cisterns for rainwater storage for landscape and emergency needs.

Such measures are orders of magnitude less expensive, quicker, and easier than desalination plants or the construction of controversial new dams and canals, and can add billions of gallons of water to our supply, potentially two-thirds of the water needed by the city for the entire year.

TreePeople inspires, engages and supports people to take personal responsibility for their environment — by planting trees in our fire-ravaged mountains, as well as in our neighborhoods, schools, parks, and asphalt expanses. By reforesting the mountains and the city, revitalizing our soil banks that are capable of capturing and storing rainfall and taking other water conserving measures, we can harvest rainwater — our precious local water source — and help nature heal our cities.

To get involved in our forest or urban efforts, register as a TreePeople volunteer. And stay tuned for updates!