An Open Letter to Angelenos in a Time of Drought

You can’t care about trees without caring about water. The two are intimately connected.

That’s why TreePeople has been committed to take rainwater harvesting to scale for over 20 years. Rainwater can and should be a significant part of our water supply.

Each month, hundreds of people attend our workshops and install rain tanks at home. It hasn’t always been so easy. In the past, when drought wasn’t on people’s minds, the dominant mindset was that Los Angeles is a desert–assuming we didn’t get more than a few drops of water a year. But that simply isn’t true! On average, LA receives between 12-15 inches of rain per year. Even in the driest calendar year in recorded history, we got 3.6 inches of rain in LA. Considering that 3.8 billion gallons of capture-able rainwater runs off of the city of LA’s streets for every inch of rain that falls, it means on that worst drought year, we lost over 12 billion gallons. That’s 3,420 gallons for each of LA’s 4 million people. That’s water that can’t go to waste. According to LA Department of Water and Power’s recent Stormwater Capture Master Plan, our average capture-able rain water is enough to meet upwards of 45% of our city’s annual need.

Now, before we point fingers, it’s important to remember that we can’t blame agencies for not instantly expanding capture projects. The LA County Flood Control District has a long history of prioritizing rainwater capture–but, until recently, agencies have struggled to gain the necessary public support to expand our infrastructure.

It is also worth mentioning that distributed rainwater capture and storage that is divvied up among agencies and residents, businesses, parks and schools may be the fastest, strongest and most financially viable option to bringing “new” water supplies on line for LA. When capture is part of a multi-purpose system, it sets us up for water-security well into the future, giving everyone a role to play and ensuring we harvest the greatest capacity imaginable. (Not to mention, it supports our trees as they protect us from severe heat, and keeps our oceans and waterways healthy and pollution-free!)

We’re proud to stand with our city and county agencies as they work to make this city water-resilient.  

TreePeople cistern construction Coldwater Canyon Park photo by TreePeople
TreePeople cistern construction on the hilltop of Coldwater Canyon Park

With just a few inches of rain, our park’s cistern captures thousands of gallons of water–from our rooftops, our sidewalks and our parking lot. It gives us the ability to water our trees, even in drought–and opens up the potential to help our neighbors in an emergency.

During one of the last Red Flag Alerts, the local fire station heard we had water, as they were identifying emergency back up supplies for fire helicopters. Even during the drought, we had enough to fill 250 helicopters!

Want to support our work to make LA water-secure? Donate now to keep us moving forward. 


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.