Water security: a gallon saved is a gallon earned

Last year ended with a real soak: L.A. experienced the second rainiest December since 1889. Unfortunately most of that rain went pouring out to sea, and a big part of the the soaking we received was economic.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Bettina Boxall nailed it in a front page LA Times Story, In a region that imports water, much goes to waste. Boxall opens with an unfortunate Los Angeles irony that we at TreePeople have been working to overcome for years: 

The [same] region that laid pipe across hundreds of miles and tunneled through mountains to import water also built an extensive storm drain system to get rid of rainfall as quickly as possible. That's exactly what happened last week, when tens of billions of gallons of runoff that could lessen the region's need for those faraway sources were dumped into the Pacific. Enough water pours from Los Angeles streets to supply well over 130,000 homes for a year.

We lose a nearly eight billion gallons of water, according to the US Geological Survey, for every inch of rainfall in the Los Angeles region that we discard. To replace this wasted water, we import additional billions of gallons of water a year from the Sierra and northern California, via the State Water Project at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars and an enormous amount of energy.

Capturing, cleaning, and storing rain, could help protect us not only from drought, but from the big, dangerous hundred-year storms that climatologists tell us will become increasingly likely this century - and in fact are happening in Australia. It would make us water secure, stem the flow of money that's hemorrhaging from our current system, and help restore the ecosystem that sustains us.

The story mentions a 2009 NRDC paper we have often championed on this site:
The report concluded that the region could increase local supplies by an amount equal to more than half Los Angeles' annual water demand by incorporating relatively simple water-harvesting techniques in new construction and redevelopments. These include installing cisterns and designing landscaping to retain runoff and let it seep into the ground.

Yes. But imagine not just a rare cistern here and there as we have at TreePeople headquarters and other demonstration sites. Imagine a city supported by cisterns, as we see in Australia, or even a city with a network of cisterns, linked together, capable of storing billions of gallons of water. Had we a million cisterns networked together, we could release existing waters before the storm's arrival, and divert and capture the rainwater to prepare for the long months of summer.

Imagine a city that welcomed its storms, and that used the water for replenishment as a forest does. Imagine a city less afraid of natural or unnatural disasters, greatly protected from floods and droughts, with water on-site and available even in the case of a devastating earthquake. Imagine an investment not just in a concrete channel, but a water solution that includes people. Imagine not a stopgap measure, but a comprehensive solution. That's what TreePeople and a host of agencies, city, state, and Federal, have done in the Sun Valley area of Los Angeles, and most recently, on chronically flooded Elmer Avenue as I discussed at Bioneers this year.

As we look out into a year where the economics are quite scary for our city, still suffering 13% unemployment, perhaps as we face the prospect of multiple disasters -- both natural and economic -- we should use this perspective to imagine and begin to act on creating a water security solution that offers multiple benefits and lasting savings, for now and for the future to come.

This is the possibility that urban watershed management offers. Here's a picture of our cistern under construction five years ago. Thanks to the recent storms, it is now full to capacity, taking TreePeople off the grid for the next year for irrigating over an acre of (climate appropriate) landscaping.