June 20, 2016|By Cindy Montañez

California is in the midst of an unprecedented water crisis, with Southern California the most vulnerable region. The challenges with water run deep and wide in Los Angeles County. The historic drought and rising temperatures are stressing urban trees, increasing the urban heat-island effect (in which a metropolitan area is a lot warmer than the rural areas surrounding it), threatening Los Angeles’s distant sources of imported water and impacting human health. The most devastating impacts of climate change are the human impacts, and the poorest communities are going to be hurt the worst. In Los Angeles County alone more than 2 million people live below the federal poverty line. People are suffering, yet much of the state is asleep at the switch.

TreePeople is on the front line of response to these threats, and we’re proud to have The Conservation Fund as our partner. With more than 7,000 volunteers, Citizen Foresters, student leaders, teachers and community activists, we are leading a movement towards urban sustainability and environmental justice. With our partners, we are bringing people together to grow and sustain enough tree canopy to keep even the most asphalt-blanketed parts of our city shaded, healthy and thriving, as temperatures rise and water supply becomes more uncertain.

TreePeople promotes the benefits of rainwater harvesting: anyone can capture rain at their homes, schools and neighborhoods because even in a drought, it rains. TreePeople is installing internationally-recognized, nature-based technologies that can increase the amount of local water supply, protect against flooding, and address water quality, all while creating jobs and greener neighborhoods. These technologies also address urban cooling and allow Los Angeles to decrease its reliance on imported water. According to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s first ever Stormwater Capture Master Plan, capturing rainwater can meet upwards of 45% of Los Angeles’s annual need.

16676251051 014d6d8b5e kAccording to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s first ever Stormwater Capture Master Plan, capturing rainwater can meet upwards of 45% of Los Angeles’s annual water need. TreePeople educates Angelenos on rainwater capturing methods, and distributes rainbarrels by the thousands to "early adopters" of a fast-growing movement towards more home rainwater harvesting. Photo credit: TreePeople.

With a boost in rainwater capture, many more trees can be sustained. Trees, in turn, capture rainwater in their leafy canopies and absorb it into groundwater through their roots. They prevent polluted runoff, reduce the need for landscape water, and keep us shaded and healthier, both physically and emotionally.          

Our name,“TreePeople,” expresses our conviction that people and nature must work in partnership. Every weekend, hundreds of people attend our workshops, install rain barrels at home, and come together to plant and care for trees, recognizing that “trees need people and people need trees.” They learn to remove turf lawns and create rainwater-absorbing landscapes that attract bees and hummingbirds with unthirsty native plants. They are inspired to shade their landscapes with leafy trees surrounded by a thick layer of mulch, saving water, energy and dollars.

26470442665 3ae8073cfe oEvery year TreePeople engages school communities to turn barren asphalt urban campuses into living green oases that protect children with tree canopy and help absorb rainwater into the ground. Photo credit: TreePeople.

All of this is heartening, and even more so is the increasing participation of public leaders and water agencies. TreePeople is facilitating the Greater LA Water Collaborative, an historic collaboration among Los Angeles’s major water agencies to identify and resolve barriers to collaborative water management. We are putting this collaboration into real world joint projects—dubbed LA StormCatcher. Supported by financing from The Conservation Fund’s Land Conservation Loan program, TreePeople is playing a major role with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the City of LA Bureau of Sanitation and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. Together, this Greater LA Water Collaborative is testing model technologies people can use at their homes, and eventually citywide. The demonstration residential landscapes being researched in this project are yielding valuable information on how to change over Los Angeles’s water infrastructure from “gray” (traditional water supply and wastewater systems) to “green” (using cisterns and landscape transformations). The cisterns have a 21st century twist as they are all networked to the cloud—allowing them to anticipate future storms and release water to the rain garden for infiltration BEFORE the next storm to allow more room in the tanks to capture the water from the next storm. TreePeople received national attention when the White House and federal agencies recognized our effort as an example for increased collaboration to increase green infrastructure and community resilience.

22784907980 eefb3aeba9 kAndy Lipkis, TreePeople founder and President, speaks at the November 4, 2015 ribbon cutting of the first LA Stormcatcher demonstration of innovative rainwater harvesting technologies. This is a project of the Greater LA Water Collaborative, a consortium of leading water agencies facilitated by TreePeople that includes the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. Photo credit: TreePeople.

The time is ripe for TreePeople’s mission to be accelerated. The world is looking to us for solutions on the emerging global water crisis, and we are growing these solutions together with the Los Angeles community and partners like The Conservation Fund.