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Rainwater Capture as a Game Changer for Drought-Prone Cities

During Australia's 12-year drought, cities like Brisbane cut water usage per-person-per-day by more than half. Andy Lipkis, the founder and president of TreePeople, believes Los Angeles can follow this example.
June 5, 2014, 8am PDT | Molly M. Strauss | @mmstrauss
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In the face of changing weather patterns due to climate change and with fewer trees today to capture, clean, and store rainwater, Lipkis argues that city residents must themselves collect as much of the resource as possible. Speaking at the USC Center for Sustainability’s Spring Forum titled "Envisioning Drought Resilient Cities," he shares the unprecedented success Australia experienced after its citizens installed rainwater-capture cisterns on their own homes. Relying on supplies in their backyards, he explains, changed Australians' relationship to water and encouraged them to conserve--along with harvesting drops that would otherwise be lost as runoff.

Predictions point to "hotter hots, wetter wets, and drier dries," leaving Southern California to prepare for increasingly extreme conditions. Lipkis sees this challenge as an opportunity to re-integrate water management, moving away from a system controlled by "bureaucracies that never talked to each other again like the tree talked to itself." As local agencies begin to work together on rainwater-capture solutions, Lipkis is hopeful that Los Angeles can follow Australia in dramatically decreasing demand.

He explains: "The City of LA throws away at least 3.8 billion gallons per inch of rainfall as runoff. Last month, when it rained 4 inches in one week during that storm, we threw away 13 billion gallons of water. We threw away 3.5 thousand gallons per person, for every one of the 4 million residents of the city. In the driest year in recorded history, we had a lot of water that we could have captured if we built a system like this... It’s going to take leadership, and leadership is emerging."

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Published on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 in The Planning Report
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