TreePeople and Water In Southern California – A Decades Long Push for a Resilient Future

“The story of Los Angeles is the story of water,” remarks Peter Massey, TreePeople’s Project Manager of Water Equity Programs, noting how California’s modern history is so deeply intertwined with water issues. 

The booming population expansion and growth into an agricultural superpower that defined California in the 20th century would not have been possible without building some of the world’s largest water infrastructure projects – moving over 13 trillion gallons of water from all across the state to more than 35 million people and 5.6 million acres of farmland. This system also weaves together the state’s stormwater management and flood control projects with an astoundingly complex web of water rights born from Spanish colonial law, English common law, and 173 years of constantly evolving policy decisions. 

The effects of man-made climate change are starting to showcase the cracks in this complex but fragile system. The water that William Mullholand was banking on (when he began draining the snow-fed Owens Valley of its water over 100 years ago and sending it to Los Angeles) can no longer be counted on. That’s why, for four decades, TreePeople has been advocating for a massive rethinking of how California approaches its water needs. At the state and municipal level, we are working with the scientists and policy makers to build a more resilient and water-secure California; on the individual level, TreePeople gives everyday people the tools and information they need to be smart with the ways they use and think about water.

“TreePeople tends to take on the harder jobs in the environment: pushing boundaries and creating new models to bring about wide-scale change,” says Massey. “We’ve always been about getting the individual involved in healing LA, and there’s still a lot of work to be done transforming landscapes, capturing water at the parcel scale, and securing ongoing support for systemic changes – like we see with funding provided by the Safe Clean Water Program.”

The last decade has seen that fight start to pay off. We worked with LADWP to help develop their Stormwater Master Plan for the City of Los Angeles, which lays out how stormwater capture can play a significant role in our future water supply. The influence of our Policy and Research team was instrumental in the creation and passing of Measure W and the creation of Los Angeles County’s Safe Clean Water Program that is working to modernize our current water infrastructure to collect, store, and clean the billions of gallons of stormwater we waste every year and turn it into one of our most important local resources.

“Most important is to keep the communities involved who were most harmed by 20th Century water infrastructure practices,” says Massey. “We are currently honored to be part of two projects that focus on building community involvement in water related planning and projects and working to support equity and justice around urban water issues in WaterTalks and the Safe, Clean Water Program.”

As a changing climate puts California’s water supply and infrastructure up against the ropes, TreePeople will continue doing the work for bring communities together to build resilience and fight for a better future for all Californians – because we want everyone to be a part of California’s water story. 

To learn more about how you can capture and store water at home, visit To help support TreePeople and our work visit

By Adam Thomas

As Events and Community Partnerships Manager Adam works to create unique experiences and events that bring people and organizations together to connect with the natural world.