TreePeople Have Plan for Saving LA’s Water

Source: WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: T.R.E.E.S. in LA: TreePeople, Integrative Design, and "Trans-Agency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability".

TreePeople’s goal is all of LA, and they’re now "installing a citywide system across Los Angeles of cisterns and infiltrators to help capture water runoff and recharge the aquifer – just like a mature oak tree."

As their web site puts it: If fully implemented, T.R.E.E.S. can: Reduce fresh water imports to our region by up to 50% Create up to 50,000 jobs Dramatically reduce pollution into Santa Monica and San Pedro Bays Remove the 100 year flood threat on the L.A. River Eliminate "greenwaste" from the waste stream, thereby reducing landfill content by 30 percent Significantly improve air quality

TreePeople’s initial focus, was to plant trees in LA. As it’s matured, its mission has grown: to restore the forest, and reknit the fabric of community. Lipkis shared one page of that big story.

LA got hit with a 100 year flood in 1978 — and again in 1980 — likely a result, in part, of Los Angeles being two-thirds paved, impermeable surfaces. The familiar piecemeal response: bring in the Army Corps of Engineers to raise the walls of the LA River.

TreePeople took an integrative approach. "The city spends $1 billion a year moving water in," Lipkis noted. "Rainfall provides half the water we need, but we throw most of it away – and spend more money to do that."

"’It’s cheaper to build canals,’ a county flood control agency told us, ‘and you’d need 20k gal swimming pool at a million homes’ for a water capture strategy."

In contrast to the Corp of Engineer’s philosophy of "keep water and people apart," TreePeople seeks to "inspire people to take personal responsibility for environment and participate in its healing." So TreePeople challenged the project’s EIR, and secured US Forest Service funding to demonstrate better alternatives. A four day, 100 person design charrette considered how to retrofit the city, and developed best management practices (BMPs) for industrial sites, commercial buildings, schools, apartments and single-family homes.

The resulting Planbook offers "a blueprint for an ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable Los Angeles, and an implementation plan implementation planproposes public policy and financial strategies that can facilitate the widespread use of the BMPs."

The project employs technologies that mimic the "sponge and filter" function of trees. It also demonstrates the technical and economic feasibility (and desirability) of retrofitting a city to function as an urban forest watershed.

Integrated resource planning — coupled with whole system economic analysis that showed significantly lower capital costs and operating costs — didn’t persuade the powers that be. What did persuade was a demonstration project. TreePeople retrofitted a single family house, on a typical lot, to capture rainwater and store it in a below ground cistern, invited the public agencies that hadn’t been persuaded by the plan, and held a flash flood in full view of the media, of course — dumping 4,000 gallons of water on the home in five minutes. Not a drop ran off the site.