Happy World Water Day, LA – There’s Hope Yet

TreePeople Founder and President, Andy Lipkis
TreePeople Founder and President, Andy Lipkis

Water scarcity is certainly a worldwide issue, but we in LA know the seriousness of it. Did you know that California has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs?

The good news is that our city is getting serious about creating a local, reliable water supply – and TreePeople is helping to bring to it the best global models.

TreePeople has been intensely involved in solving LA’s local water problems since the 1990s. At that time I realized that the answer to LA’s water challenges isn’t in importing even more water from Northern California and the Colorado River. I realized that the answer lies right here in our city: on our driveways, sidewalks, city streets, parking lots and paved schoolyards. When it rains, these are the surfaces where the rainfall hits – and from where it’s thrown away as quickly as possible, picking up pollution as most of it gets sent through storm drains out to sea.

When I began to ask how much water was wasted, I was shocked at the answer. That’s when I first discovered that the rainfall we were throwing away represented nearly half the total water we need.

But how could rain be a resource in the midst of drought?

TreePeople's Director of Sustainable Solutions, Lisa Cahill explains how to use a rain barrel in their backyards.
TreePeople’s Director of Sustainable Solutions, Lisa Cahill explains how to install a rain barrel.

Contrary to public belief, it rains in Los Angeles, even during drought. So far this year, it has rained 7.7 inches in the city of Los Angeles. This rainfall alone, little as it is, has generated 29 billion gallons of runoff from the over-paved LA urban landscape.  That amount equals 7,315 gallons of water thrown away per person for each of the LA’s four million residents – water that could be captured to create part of our local water supply.


That sounds great in theory, but could we really capture that rain?


Yes we can. Australia provides an exciting and viable model. Australians captured and radically conserved rainwater in enough quantity to make it through an historic twelve-year-long drought. As reservoirs and rivers dried up, residents, businesses and governments retrofitted cities to capture rain at homes, in neighborhoods and schoolyards in tanks (also known as cisterns) and by creating sponge-like landscapes using mulch, compost and native and climate-appropriate trees and plants.

Their cities, as a result, are more water-secure, and healthier, more resilient and even more beautiful than ever.

TreePeople’s had a long history of learning from Australia. Last October we brought a delegation of sixteen leaders from local and state-level agencies to Australia to see for themselves the methods that were rapidly deployed to enable the country survive its drought. The goal was to equip these leaders with the information and inspiration to bring these solutions back to apply in California. Just one example of the good that is coming from this: directly related to what he learned in Australia, Councilmember Felipe Fuentes just passed a motion through City Council to dramatically increase capture stormwater from LA’s streets.

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes presents his findings from Australia to LA City Council.
Councilmember Felipe Fuentes presents his findings from Australia to LA City Council.

What was striking about our recent visit to Australia was to see how the country engaged the whole population in taking rapid action. Since I founded TreePeople in 1973, I’ve believed that people caring for the land, the trees, the water, the soil, play a crucial role in delivering solutions to problems that are threatening our survival. The more I’ve seen this in action by Angelenos from school kids to volunteers to government leaders, the more I’ve seen my belief validated.

Together we can create a vibrant, resilient, thriving city…with enough water for the life that depends on it.

We can’t do this work without you. Support our critical local water programs today.


By Andy Lipkis

Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age 18 and continues to serve as its President. Andy has spearheaded an approach using trees and forest-inspired technologies to make cities sustainable while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, and climate change. Called “Functioning Community Forests,” it is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.