Water Equity

Every year in Los Angeles, 85% of the city's water is pumped in from hundreds of miles away.

TreePeople has been modeling best watershed management practices for decades by engaging people through education and participation in community retrofit projects that demonstrate how our schools, homes, streets and alleys can be transformed to improve water quality, increase water supply, and provide community benefits. Every year in Los Angeles, 85% of the city’s water is pumped in from the San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River. As our water sources continue to be impacted by the effects of the worsening drought and climate change, it is imperative that we conserve and protect our water supply.

The LA Bureau of Sanitation has calculated that every half-inch of rain that falls in the city is 3.8 billion gallons of water. That equates to 3% of the city’s annual water use for every half-inch of rain. If the city gets its average of 14 inches of rain in a year, that would mean an equivalent of around 21% of the city’s annual water use falls as rain. Unfortunately, this water ends up doing more harm than good as it runs across streets, sidewalks, yards and roofs, it picks up chemicals, waste, trash, and debris that pollutes our rivers and oceans.

This is known as urban runoff, and the pollutants that are carried in our stormwater affect all of our communities, especially those already disproportionately impacted by polluting industries which we know are more often underrepresented communities of color. TreePeople believes communities on the frontlines deserve to be at the table making decisions about how we clean and protect our waterways and are receiving the resources necessary to ensure the environmental, health, and social benefits that come from integrating sustainable and nature based solutions such increasing tree canopy, parks and open space, and replacing asphalt with permeable surfaces to capture and clean our rain water.

TreePeople has been a well-respected champion for water equity and a leader on water education for decades.

1980: TreePeople develops the award winning Eco-tours program for K-12 grade students at our 45-acre park in Coldwater Canyon Park that thoroughly includes water issues that include stormwater. The tour (virtual and in person) now features TreePeople’s La Kretz Urban Watershed Garden – a large-scale, visual and interactive demonstration of their watershed. This beautiful demonstration garden is a hands-on exhibit that shows three views of the Los Angeles urban watershed. One display shows a natural water course where rain falls in mountains, flows through a vegetated river and finally ends in the ocean, clear and clean. Another view, showing our current “urban urgencies,” depicts rain falling on a house, water generated from wasteful sprinklers sprayed on a lawn, and a hose for washing down sidewalks, and how this runoff collects land pollution and directs it into a gutter. Students observe the “trash” they put into the street as it goes under the sidewalk and into a concrete-lined river and to its final destination – the ocean – where the water is dark and laden with trash. An opposing demonstration mirrors the “urban urgency” side of the garden, but provides “sustainable solutions” that can be taken to reduce stormwater runoff, including rain capture (rain barrel and infiltration in a rain garden), permeable surfaces and native vegetation – choices they and their families can make at home.

1997 Los Angeles County Public Works awards TreePeople the Generation Earth (GE) Program and TreePeople goes on to design and implement the award-winning program. Through hands-on environmental literacy and service-learning focused on waste and water issues, the GE program reaches over 250,000 middle and high school students each year in Los Angeles County.

1998 Following the success of TreePeople’s first project demonstrating sustainable stormwater management (a single-family home retrofit in South LA), the leadership at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works gave support to a partnership between the City of Los Angeles and TreePeople to develop and implement a multi-year, wide-scale watershed retrofit of Sun Valley (a sub-watershed of the LA River Upper Watershed, which was declared an Environmental Justice Zone by the City of Los Angeles). The partnership resulted in the formation of the Sun Valley Watershed Stakeholders Group, which has been meeting since 1998, and in the creation of the Sun Valley Watershed Management Plan, formally adopted by the LA County Board of Supervisors in 2004. Since then, numerous projects have been completed or are in the works including the Rory M. Shaw Wetlands Park.

2001 Hillery T. Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima was suffering from periodic flooding that sometimes reduced student attendance by as much as 15 percent. With the support of the school district, the site was retrofitted to capture, treat and hold all the rain falling there, reducing the flood risk and recharging the groundwater. An underground infiltration system, a swale, permeable ground cover, and strategically planted trees replaced over 30 percent of the asphalt that once covered the campus. Energy use was also reduced by shading and cooling the buildings and their air conditioning units. The Broadous retrofit was a collaboration involving TreePeople, LAUSD, LADWP, Pacoima Beautiful, the city council district, landscape architects and the engineering firm of Montgomery Watson (now MWH).

2004 TreePeople was honored to work closely with the County of Los Angeles to create the Sun Valley Watershed Management Plan, formally approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in July 2004, which is a large-scale project that supports alternative watershed management practices in a flood-ridden, 2,700 acre area of the NE San Fernando Valley. We have been involved in multiple aspects of the Plan ever since, including installation of an infiltration field at Sun Valley Park, completed in 2010.

2012 TreePeople began sharing innovations, best practices and experiences in urban rainwater capture, water conservation and drought response among government, research and community organizations in Australia and Southern California.

2014 TreePeople collaborates with partners in Australia and holds a Drought Emergency Plenary to showcase findings and policy suggestions.

2015 TreePeople helped lead, facilitate and guide the creation of the City of LA’s first ever Stormwater Capture Master Plan (SCMP). Knowing the inherent need for a stormwater planning document, TreePeople not only successfully pitched the concept for an SCMP, but also led an effort proving the water supply opportunities to be gained from an SCMP—ultimately garnering the support to develop the plan from the Department. TreePeople then became a key partner on the team to develop the SCMP, along with LADWP and its engineering consultant, to guide the process through a two-year timeframe. TreePeople’s role helped to ensure the end result contained progressive projects and policies, included significant community engagement and support, and incorporated best practices TreePeople has provided from extensive research.

2016 TreePeople with its mission to connect water (blue), soil (brown), and trees (green) launched the #LAStormcatcher Pilot Project which teaches people how to capture rain on residential properties through green infrastructure.

2017 TreePeople completes the #LAStormcatcher Pilot Project. The project is a collaboration between LADWP, LA Bureau of Sanitation and LA County Flood Control District, facilitated by TreePeople, to explore the challenges to and benefits from increased collaborative governance of water management. The pilot installed a half-dozen cutting edge residential rainwater catchment systems, featuring cisterns equipped with cloud-based monitoring and control technology that adjusts performance in real time based on forecast precipitation — releasing or retaining water to optimize tank capacity, onsite irrigation, groundwater recharge, runoff reduction and flood mitigation. The systems have been rigorously analyzed to reveal the full potential of residential rainwater capture at the regional scale.

2019 In partnership with County Public Works, TreePeople began a “Lawns to Landscape” program which offers single-family residences nature-based solutions intended to reduce stormwater runoff, improve water quality, and/or promote water infiltration and reuse, with dozens of residential retrofits already completed.

2019 TreePeople expanded OurWaterLA, in 2019 a diverse coalition of community leaders and organizations from across Los Angeles County united to create a strong water future. OurWaterLA helped to get Measure W passed and partners closely with County Public Works to ensure program implementation aligns with goals put forward in the ordinance.

2019 - Current TreePeople currently facilitates the Disadvantaged Community and Tribal Involvement (DACTI) Program, also called WaterTalks, for the California Department of Water Resources. In partnership with County Public Works, Council for Watershed Health, Stantec, Better World Group, Sacred Places, and 11 community-based organizations the program is focused on generating and increasing community involvement in planning a sustainable water future for California through education workshops, conducting LA’s largest water equity needs assessment, and involving community in water infrastructure project planning and implementation across 107 underserved communities in LA County.

2021 TreePeople staff, Peter Massey, will lead TreePeople’s role as Watershed Coordinator for Santa Clara River Watershed Area for LA County’s Safe Clean Water Program.

TreePeople is partnering with Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, Stantec, Council for Watershed Health, and a leadership group of 13 community-based organizations to deliver one of the largest state funded water equity projects in California. WaterTalks is a public program funded by the State of California Proposition 1 and the Integrated Regional Water Management that seeks to engage 104 communities across Los Angeles County facing economic and environmental distress, ensuring that communities and the institutions that serve them are able to participate as equals in planning for local green infrastructure and water sustainability projects. The WaterTalks program also prioritizes listening to the needs of Tribal communities and connecting these needs to funding water-focused projects led by Tribal communities.

WaterTalks is currently:

  • Educating communities about the multiple aspects of water supply, quality, and related health and safety
  • Conducting a major Strengths and Needs Assessment in under-represented communities
  • Helping guide millions of dollars in public funding for water improvement projects in these same neighborhoods based on the Needs Assessment

The WaterTalks Leadership Group of community-based organizations include:

For more information and to learn about water in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, please visit WaterTalks.LA.

To learn more about the Integrated Regional Water Management program in LA County, click here.

In 2020, TreePeople assumed the role of Watershed Coordinator to build capacity and facilitate community and stakeholder engagement with the Safe, Clean Water Program in order to improve water quality, increase water supply, and provide community benefits for the Santa Clara River Watershed. In this capacity, TreePeople serves as a connector between community members, advocates, and agencies to potential projects within the watershed that capture and collect rainwater to reduce the amount of trash and pollutants carried by surface runoff and increase regional water supply. This includes projects that are aimed to provide multiple benefits such as the creation or expansion of parks and open space, replacing asphalt with permeable surfaces, and protection of waterways.