Drought 101: 5 Ways to Move Forward

Over the past five weeks, we’ve worked to create a basic, yet thorough understanding of the California Drought. Why? We believe that a resilient water future ultimately depends on a shift in us, in the way we think and behave. We can no longer afford to be unconscious water users. Instead, a renewed sense of reverence should shape how we interact with our lifeblood, as citizens, consumers, and people of power. 

If William Mulholland set the tone for water in the 20th century American West, now is the time to reset it for the 21st. Use your newfound expertise as a foundation for exploration!

That’s what we plan to do. From here on out, our weekly dispatches will aim to investigate, reimagine, and add texture to the story of our water. Let these 5 Ways to Move Forward serve as both a teaser for our future material, and a gateway to see real opportunity for immediate next steps.


Let’s Embrace Our Native Landscape. California is Gorgeous! 

Remember that Mediterranean climate of ours? Those characteristic long dry spells and short wet winters aren’t suited for delicate, water-intensive grass, so prepare to watch your lawn die a quick and crusty death. What shall rise from its ashes? That one’s up to you.

Of course there’s good and bad grass. Parks? Soccer fields? Fantastic. The myriad social and community benefits will always make exceptions for open green space. But private polo grounds? Decorative grass around unoccupied summer homes? Bright emerald islands of wet sod in the Bel Air estates? Come on.

If you’re in love with lawn aesthetics, we can only say, take a step back from Gatsby’s sprinting greenways and have a look around. You’re in California now baby—the land of hearty scrub, deep green succulents, and trees (don’t let anyone tell you trees are bad for the drought!). Might as well embrace it. Drought-resistant flora grow deeper roots and use less water, while natives (when you can use them) bloom in grand fashion on their home turf.  And with the $3.75/ft2 that LA City pays out for swapping your grass, you can pick up a hammock and a self-congratulatory mai-tai for primo garden relaxation. 


It Still Rains, and It’s Time We Do Something With That Rain. 

As we mentioned in our climate issue, water has not altogether stopped falling from the sky (in fact May and June have been downright soggy!) and scientists are 100% certain it will continue to do so. The problem is, every time it rains, something in the realm of 10 billion gallons of fresh water shoots directly into the Santa Monica Bay.

Let’s swap the drain for a sponge. If you have pavement on your lawn, bust it up, put in something that grows. Support your neighborhood council in Green Streets initiatives to disrupt gutters with plants that slow flow and filter water. Pour excess cooking or bathwater onto plants or into the ground instead of down your drain. Check out our water cycle issue for more on the current state of urban water, and stay tuned for the ongoing efforts to sponge LA’s sprawling cement and capture that rain.


Water is Precious Inventory,
So Let’s Take Better Stock.

We’ve got leaking pipes. We’ve got old water meters. Our water departments resist change. Our managers don’t get along. And our prices don’t seem to have been set so much by an invisible hand as by a confused drunk. Come on America! When it comes to your most precious resource, it’s time to manifest a high-tech, world class, and efficient management system.  

As citizens, voters, and people who talk about the Drought at parties, we need to support serious reform when it comes to the way our municipalities price and distribute water—with a mind to conservation and providing fair basic access for all. (In case you missed it, see our issues Municipal Madness and the Water Biz.)


Collaboration is Key!

As long as we’re shifting paradigms, let’s go ahead and eradicate this wall between us and the city government. The system of management we’ve developed over the last century is massively convoluted, and change demands a renewed effort to realign with the community, and with each other.

Every water agency in Southern California has its own budget, its own allocations, staff, jurisdiction, overheads, and their degrees of separation have defined them more than their common resource. It is time to nip this one in the bud and ask for it outright: more collaborative planning please! More cross-agency budgets! More funding for community-scale projects, and please please please can you do that thing where you collect all the rain that runs off the tarmac all LAX?? Plus, listen to the Tree People and give each other a call every once in a while! LAS, go get a beer with LADPW, take MWD to the movies, and everyone meet at CWF’s house this weekend for mimosas.


Our Food System Has Got to Change.

If you eat food, you have power as a consumer to direct the way the food system operates. As we mentioned in our last issue, the problem is less “almonds vs. carrots” and more “local vs. global,” so if conservation is our best hope (it is) then small is beautiful across the board. Find your food locally (not hard in California!), pay a little more for a less quantity and higher quality, share with your friends, eat at farm-to-table restaurants, clean your plate, visit your farmer. Every step we take to reign in the scope of our diet will reduce excessive use of water AND a host of other precious resources. Because we figure, let’s start by addressing the root of the problem. If amidst all this, almonds turn out to be the real culprit, we’ll eat our hats.

And for those of us who can’t afford to eat local, isn’t it ridiculous that food from thousands of miles away is cheaper than food from next door? How truly backwards is this? Awesome programs are already in place to make farmer’s market fare available to EBT and SNAP holders, but there is lots of work to be done. We will dig deeper into this issue soon, and we want to hear from you if that’s your focus.


Good class y’all—we can’t thank you enough for your presence! Our hope is that you share what you’ve learned here, and help us to promote a broad water consciousness within our region of the world.

Stick with us every Sunday as we explore how we might build a more resilient water future. We've only just begun.