A Call to Drought Action, LA: in the Steps of Australia, Washington and Sacramento

A Call to Drought Action, LA: in the Steps of Australia, Washington and Sacramento

LA’s star is rising, and so am I, literally, as I write this from 37,000 feet on flight to Melbourne. Visiting Australia is a deeply meaningful journey for me. I traveled there from the beginnings of TreePeople, when I was in my early 20’s, and it was truly life changing.

First and foremost, it’s where I met my wife and partner, Kate. Also, it was here whiles visiting my Australian family that I began another lifelong love: capturing rainwater. In this dry country, every drop of water is valued. In many parts of Australia, instead of saying, “How are you?” people greet each other with, “How’re your tanks?” Rainwater harvesting tanks. Using this powerful phrase expressed so much (that also aligns with TreePeople’s core mission and values): How’s the weather treating you? How are you managing with your water? Do you need any assistance or support? It indicated a deep connection to their community and awareness of their environment.

It was this consciousness and culture that helped to save the country. From 1997 to 2010, Australia experienced an epic dry spell known as “The Millennial Drought,” and it was the peoples’ resourcefulness to capture and conserve the little rain that did fall, that helped them survive.

On this trip, I am leading a delegation of top state, regional and local officials and policymakers to understand the relevant lessons and tools Australia implemented from its drought and to bring back to Southern California for prompt application. Our mission is clear: California is already in a historic drought which may become epic. Regardless of whether the current drought ends, we are facing a long term water crisis. What we learn from Australia could be crucial for our survival.

This delegation is the culmination of years of work by TreePeople making connections with government, research and community organizations in Australia to share innovations and best practices in urban rainwater capture and enhanced water conservation.

Our team of experts includes: Jared Blumenfeld Administrator, Region 9 US EPA; Nancy Sutley Chief Sustainability Officer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; Greg Good, Director of Infrastructure for the City of Los Angeles; Felicia Marcus, head of the State Water Board, among others.

The timing couldn’t be better. Last week Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued his Executive Directive on water. This call to action in the face of continuing drought contained many of the recommendations TreePeople has been promoting for years, including water conservation, reduction of our dependence on imported water, and climate-resilient landscaping.

The directive’s goal is a 20 percent reduction in water use by 2017. It’s ambitious (and matches what Governor Jerry Brown calls for), but the Australian delegates will be learning how this country achieved conservation rates of up to 60 percent during its drought. These are lessons we’ll be bringing home to help make L.A. the climate-resilient city we need it to be.

Not only is TreePeople “connecting the raindrops” locally and internationally, but we are now in a prominent position at the national level to advance sustainable water conservation and rainwater capture.

Earlier this month, I received a call from the White House asking me to present our work there to a group of federal agencies who were seeking to achieve greater collaboration in managing the earth’s living infrastructure systems (forests, rivers, and grasslands), and use the principles of forestry and watershed management to better manage city environments. I was honored to be one of 26 organizations and agencies to the new Green Infrastructure Collaborative. There, I was able to share the groundbreaking work of the LA Multi-Agency Collaborative that TreePeople is facilitating with our partners: the LA Department of Water and Power, LA City Bureau of Sanitation, and LA County Department of Public Works. We’re creating a model for the national movement to change our infrastructure from grey, outdated, and vulnerable to green, viable, and sustainable. This is a heartening, promising initiative by our government, and I look forward to continuing to share our progress.

Here’s how you can take action:


  • Vote! TreePeople has officially endorsed Proposition 1, the “Water Bond,” which will substantially advance the cause of sustainable water management in California. In addition, we are endorsing the local Proposition P, which would raise much-needed money for parks, recreation and open space in “park-poor” Los Angeles.


  • Visit treepeople.org to learn how you can become a member, volunteer, and directly participate in our hands-on and policy work to grow a climate resilient future for LA.


  • Follow us here and on social media as we report from Australia—and from home – on how we take Australian innovations to scale in Southern California.

From my vantage point, LA’s star is indeed rising, and with it, the hope we can make it through this drought and beyond with a stronger, more resilient city, where both nature and communities thrive.


By Andy Lipkis, Founder and President, TreePeople


Photo Credit: Jewish Journal

By Jessica Jewell

Jessica is TreePeople’s Director of Marketing and Communications. A native Southern Californian, you can find her wandering local trails, hanging out with her sidekick, Penny the Rescue Puppy, on her yoga mat, reading some Phillip K. Dick, or in her kitchen cooking up vegan confections.

Jessica's professional background goes back to her time working at PETA where she worked on celebrity campaigns, and a stint in the entertainment industry, where she worked at Technicolor on their Global Marketing Team.