Today Ojai Foundation president Laura Whitney, together with 34 people from around the world, will walk ten miles of a 200-mile pilgrimage from Mono Lake to Owens Lake to raise awareness about California’s water problems and possible solutions. The three-week pilgrimage, called Walking Water, started Aug. 31 and will follow some of the natural and manmade waterways that transport the vital element from its sources to the City of Los Angeles.

Whitney may be the only walker from Ojai in the pilgrimage, but the town’s influence in the international movement that Walking Water has spurred over the last year is not limited to her. Former Ojai resident and one of the creators of The Ojai Foundation (TOF), Gigi Coyle, played a key role in establishing Walking Water and introduced the idea to Whitney and many others. Whitney promptly joined the support team and her husband, Jim Whitney, made the promotional video for the pilgrimage while TOF became a key contributor to Walking Water’s efforts.

“We have the possibility (with Walking Water) to model something that could go global in correcting our relationship with water and modeling better ways to share precious resources,” Whitney said.

Over the past year, the pilgrimage has developed an international presence thanks to the diversity of the participants and the number of countries organizing related events. So far, four countries outside the United States, including Greece and Kenya, and seven California cities, including Ojai, are hosting complementary events to Walking Water during the month of September. Environmental and community leaders from India, Scotland, South Africa, and Portugal, among other countries, will walk at least part of the pilgrimage. Many of the foreign participants, accompanied by Whitney and Coyle, will come to TOF on Sept. 27, the weekend after the pilgrimage ends, to talk about their experiences with water abroad and the challenges facing their respective countries.

The speakers at Healing Water, Healing Love, the name of the Ojai Foundation event, include a crucial water conservationist from India and winner of the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, Rajendra Singh, and two activists from Portugal named Sabine Lichtenfels and Benjamin von Mendelssohn.

Program director of TOF, Judy Piazza, said that the water challenges the speakers, especially Singh, have faced abroad are hard for Californians to imagine due to their severity and recalled how shocked she was when she witnessed how dry India is, even when compared to drought-stricken California. “I feel very fortunate that we can be a part of (Healing Water, Healing Love). It will be an incredible and really unique dialogue.”

The weekend before the event on Sept. 20, TOF, along with Living Peace in Ojai, will sponsor a sister event to Walking Water called Water and Walking, which will feature two panels on Ojai’s water issues and a walking vigil. Water and Walking will also celebrate International Peace Day and the equinox and, in observance of those happenings, the event’s discussions will emphasize sustainable solutions and reflection on local water issues.

Laura Maher, Ventura County greywater activist and one of the guest speakers, will be talking about the individual steps people can take to reduce their water footprint and greywater solutions to the county’s water problems.

“One of the benefits of the drought is that a lot of people are coming together to work on solving water issues,” said Maher, pointing to TOF’s event on Sept. 20 and Walking Water as examples. “These events are intended to empower, inspire and equip by sharing information.”

As Maher and the other speakers share their ideas during the panel, Whitney and Coyle will be nearly finished with the pilgrimage and concluding their own conversations about water with their fellow walkers and activists. The dialogue both at The Ojai Foundation and at Walking Water surrounding water will continue over the next two years as the TOF seeks to support Walking Water in its pursuit to host two more pilgrimages that complete the rest of the distance between Mono Lake and Los Angeles.

“So many people have gifted this journey and we trust that will continue,” Coyle said.

Both events at The Ojai Foundation are open to the public and free of charge; donations welcome. Visit ojaifoundation.org/events or call 646-8343 for details or walking-water.org to learn more about the pilgrimage.


This article about Walking Water came from the Ojai Valley News.

Featured image from the morning of Day 3 on the Walking Water pilgrimage.