Without the hard work of community, we couldn’t do what we do. This month, we’re spotlighting a volunteer whose love of trees lead her to water. Meet Janie Thompson, TreePeople Citizen Arborist and advocate for water conservation, whose home has been called a model of water conservation practices by LA Councilmember Paul Koretz and the LADWP.
When Janie moved to LA in the 1980s, she was amazed at the variety of plants and trees that would grow here. “Had I been given that knowledge [which plants are climate-appropriate] that would have been so valuable,” she says now, but back then she planted on her Encino property without much regard for the local climate.
“I had an English garden, I had a hundred rose bushes,” she said. But then, in 2009, water restrictions dictated that homeowners conserve more water at home.
She cut back to watering only two days a week. And to Janie’s surprise, her plants survived. “Nothing died. Nothing did,” she said. “And those who were paying attention would also have realized the same thing.”
Changing the Mindset
“The vast majority of home owners leave irrigation to their gardeners, but we took complete control. We said, ‘We’re not going to let someone else determine how much water we’re using.’”
“I did everything I could possibly do inside the house,” says Janie. She invested in water saving appliances like dual flush toilets and a water efficient dishwasher. Eventually she pulled the grass in the front and planted climate-appropriate plants.
After Janie attended a two-day seminar with “greywater guru,” Art Ludwig in 2009, they installed a laundry-to-landscape greywater system in their home. They were able to maintain fruit trees and a vegetable garden while staying well within Tier 1 water usage. They were empowered.
“I thought, ‘I want to do this in my community,'” Janie said. “I want to teach them about what I’ve done.”
“Then we got rain and the restrictions were lifted, and I was actually kind of sad about that. We learned to save water. People just think they need to water every day, but they don’t.”
“There are just so many people out there who are willing to share their knowledge. Slowly but surely there are things that you can do, it’s just changing the mindset.”
A Model for Water Conservation in LA
Janie didn’t let the end of the water restrictions put an end to her newfound passion: educating her community about the value of water.
On Earth Day 2010 Janie produced the Valley Water Expo, an event attended by Chris Brown, Director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, City Councilmember Paul Koretz and other lawmakers, representatives from Valley College, and 28 different companies that had products that could help consumers save water.
“It was a real eye opener for younger people,” she said. “Not only was I telling people how to save water, I was telling them how to save money, how to be stewards of the land. I started finding like-minded people all over LA County.”
She continued to be a model of water conservation practices at home, so much so that LADWP engineers came out to view her property and her greywater system.
Later, the LADWP connected Janie with an Australian greywater company—since 2013 her home has been the beta house for the company’s system, the only one of its kind in use in North America. Her system can filter 200 gallons a day, far less water than Janie and her husband ever use. “But to a family with four kids it would probably make a difference,” Janie said. (According to the DWP, LA customers use 129 gallons per person per day. LA private residents use 89 gallons per person per day.)
Janie’s home can serve as a crucial model for water conservation in Los Angeles. Recently, Councilmember Koretz toured Janie’s home and greywater system after a press conference announcing a joint effort to save LA’s trees during the ongoing drought.
“Afterwards the people all wanted to know how they could do it.” Janie says. Always a willing teacher, Janie let everyone linger while she explained everything.
“I’m willing to share knowledge,” Janie says. “We’ve definitely done more than the average person. All I know is it can be done.”
“We Took Complete Control”
Since she was young, Janie Thompson has felt a connection to trees. But she also grew up with a keen appreciation for another natural resource: water.
“My connection to water and trees comes from my great grandfather. He was a poor farmer with no irrigation. They had a giant metal cistern next to the house and [my grandparents] used that water for bathing,” Janie said. They also used it to water the variety of crops—corn, tomatoes, squash—that they grew.
“[My grandfather] had a 50 gallon barrel to fill from the well, and then he and the mule would go out into the fields to water. To this day I can see him going out there to water his plants,” she shared. To Janie’s grandfather, water was a precious commodity.
“[The process] was very labor intensive, so when I see water running down the street in my neighborhood I’m so angry because people don’t realize how valuable that water is. It’s astonishing.”
Save Water, Save Trees
“I got involved with TreePeople because encino means ‘the oak’ in Spanish,” says Janie. “I grew up in rural Texas where there were lots of oak trees. But I started seeing that the trees were dying.” But, as with her water activism, she found that many of her neighbors didn’t know why planting trees was so important.
“So many people care about the trees they just don’t know what to do,” she says. She’d tell them, “Not only are they adding amazing value to their property, it’s also helping the Earth. First of all, here’s some shade for your property, but it’s also going to cool the planet.”
The tragic effect the drought has already had on trees means her environmental passions are overlapping more than ever.
“Californians aren’t doing enough,” she says. “If we don’t cut back we might face dying trees.”
In fact, millions of trees in California’s national forests are already dead and dying due to lack of water.
“The only thing that I know for a fact is that if I can cut my water consumption, everyone can cut, they just have to be shown that it’s possible.”
Changing LA’s water use starts at home! You can follow Janie’s example today by taking advantage of the various workshops, videos and how-to guides available in our Action Center. Learn what you can do and how to do it right!