Yes, We Can Save Water (and Save Trees)

Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown issued the first mandatory water restrictions in response to our state’s historic drought. As this drought deepens and worsens and fears rise, it’s important to know that another country faced a very similar threat: Australia endured a devastating 12-year drought from 1997 – 2010. Because they have similar climate, and very similar people and economy, their story, their powerful successes, and some of their painful mistakes and lessons can serve as a guide to us in Los Angeles and California…to ensure we succeed and thrive.  This is good news that gives hope and strength, instead of fear.

Like California, Australia responded with progressively deeper conservation measures as their drought worsened. In addition to imposing water use restrictions, government agencies educated the public and engaged communities in taking action. To rapidly increase local water supply, they assisted people in capturing and making use of every drop of rainwater that fell. Agencies provided incentives to install rainwater tanks (also known as cisterns) at homes and businesses. These tanks led people to conserve even more because they became active managers of their visible water “bank account.” The result was a steep drop in per person water use.

[blockquote source=”Andy Lipkis, TreePeople Founder and President”]In Brisbane, water use dropped from 80 gallons per person per day to 33 (it is currently 84 gallons per person per day in Los Angeles).[/blockquote]

People, working together and taking action as individuals and households, drove this rapid response in Australia. Children and parents learned about water conservation behaviors and held each other accountable to conserve water in new and creative ways. This approach worked there, and it can be a big part of the response here in Los Angeles.

One of painful lessons from the Australian experience was the loss of millions of trees and public green space, together making their cities hotter and triggering significant public health impacts. To protect our families here, not only do we need to save water in our households, but we need to ensure that our city’s precious tree canopy is not devastated due to lack of water. Losing trees begins a vicious cycle of an ever hotter and dryer urban climate threatening public health and the very livability of our city. A healthy tree canopy and available soil moisture is essential for keeping neighborhoods cool. To protect our trees during this drought TreePeople is challenging Angelenos to immediately take action to save water and save trees.


In the coming weeks we will be sharing specific ideas and resources for how to dramatically increase our water conservation, save our trees, and harvest and store large quantities of rain the next time we get even a small amount. These are actions we can all take immediately and effectively to address this drought emergency. As voices grow louder in favor of expensive, energy-intensive solutions such as desalination, we firmly believe that the simpler, quickly deployable solutions are the way to go. Australia’s experience (including a multi-billion dollar mothballed fleet of desalination plants) tells us likewise.

TreePeople is working with agencies now to create cash incentives to make it easier for residents to buy and install large rainwater tanks at their homes. We will keep you posted.

In the meantime, as you take stock of what you can do, be sure to check out TreePeople’s free drought response tours, DIY workshops on native plants and turf reduction and rainwater harvesting, and online tool kits to help weather this drought and come out even stronger. Stay tuned.



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.