INTERVIEW WITH ANDY LIPKIS

With Kate Bunney

Kate: Can you share a story of the moment you fell in love with water?

Andy: When I first read this question, what came up was being at the Tinnemaha campground. I was preparing to go on a four day fast up in the White Mountains, above the Owens Valley. And Gigi Coyle, one of the co-leads of the fast, gave me the assignment to go hang out in the creek and connect with the water.

So I sat by the water and asked to connect with it, suspending any self judgement about doing that. And I connected to the water and its story, and its story connecting to my life. I said hello to Tinnemaha Creek, which runs from melted snow down the eastern side of the Sierras and I sort of traveled upstream to how the water came to be there, and into the clouds, where there was moisture carried from the Pacific, evaporated from the Ocean. I just went on this journey, with  the clouds as they came over the Sierras and made snow. And then e these snowflakes–frozen water droplets, resting, getting very excited about their journey to come when they melt. And then they melt, and they make their way into the creek and now they are approaching me, here at Tinnemaha Creek.

One night when I was staying at the Tinnemaha Campground, outside of Big Pine, I got up in the middle of the night out of my tent. I needed to pee, I had my headlamp on and walked away from the tents and found what I thought was a bush. With my light I caught something that looked like a piece of fruit. ‘That’s really interesting,’ I thought…but I went back to bed. The next morning I got up and found that it wasn’t a shrub, it was an apple tree, lying on its side. I walked to the front of the campground and there was a sign saying, ‘Property: City of Los Angeles. Leased to Inyo County.’ I realized that this would have been a farm, and an apple orchard. The day LA  announced that it had purchased that farm (and much of the land in the valley) and turned off the water – on that day, the trees were left to die. This was one of several that weren’t cared for, and it had just fallen down but was still clinging to life, getting water from the creek and producing little apples.

So why I told that story is because I had seen that sign, that knowledge, and connected it to the fact that not far below the creek – the water was rushing down the mountain to flood the valley, feed the valley, support life there. The water molecules are going with great excitement on their mission. And suddenly, they hit the junction where they get diverted into the pipe, and sent down the tube, all the way to LA, and they wind up in someone’s toilet. And I had such compassion for the water. It was like, oh man, what a life… just to have someone pee or poo on them and then be flushed back to the ocean. So there was an anthropomorphic projection on the consciousness of that water molecule, that it was perhaps hoping to wind up in a place where it was going to feed a tree or lead to the recycling of life in the Valley.

I love the beauty that it’s going to be recycled again. It’s going to be back in the cloud and get another shot. Had it gotten into a tree that used to be at the bottom of Owen’s Valley/Payahuunadu, it would have been sucked up by the vegetation and then “evapo-transpired” continuing the next cycle of water, further inland – to carry on nurturing life in inland forests rather than being diverted,  and thus creating further deserts inland by not carrying the coastal waters inland and perpetuating the water cycle.

There was just something so beautiful, painful but beautiful, and also reflective of life in that.

So that’s one of the ways I fell in love with water.

K: You’ve dedicated your life to Los Angeles, working to see it be more equitable in its water use, advocating for green areas throughout the city, and so on and so on. What are the aspects that keep you awake at night, and what do you see as some of the successes?

A: It’s funny, in preparing, in thinking about answering that first question, I fell in love with water in a bunch of ways, and let me say another one because they both go to the point.

In 1982 I was invited to a month-long speaking tour across  Australia to talk about community-based tree planting and reforestation of  urban areas and desertified lands – because so much of  Australia was desertified and it was getting worse.   I was brought there to tell stories about how TreePeople had successfully engaged  large numbers of ordinary people in planting and caring for the trees, to help the Australians build a nation-wide movement to accelerate reforestation and climate safety. The first place I went was a suburban area -, and I went for a walk with my host and he ran into a neighbor and they both exchanged funny words of greeting that I didn’t understand.I thought it was because they were Australian. They said to each other, “Howyertanks?” I asked my host to translate and then heard, ‘How-are-your-tanks?’

I went, ‘What does that mean?’ And he said ‘Your water tank, your cistern.’ How are your tanks…. I was surprised to find many other people who did the same.

What unfolded was a realization of their special and deep connection with water – I didn’t know they were in a drought. I had just come from a severe drought in Los Angeles and a very successful campaign by our water agency, making people aware of their ability to conserve and understand how we’ll get through it – and it worked! It was very very impressive. But here was a lifestyle of connection, awareness, and caring that so touched and opened my heart because all these neighbor-to-neighbor connections were centered on water AND a spirit of community, as signified by that special check-in greeting.

That simple phrase meant so much more: ‘How are you doing? How is the weather? How is the weather treating you? How are you getting by? Do you need some of my water to help, to ensure that you can grow your vegetables, meet your needs?’

It was a love, a compassion, a caring with the environment that I had never seen.

K: It is as if they are saying ‘we are as well as our water is’, yes?

A: Boom. But it was also about behavior, it was about taking care of each other, situational awareness, and it felt very safe, very secure and grounded in a place that was threatened. I wasn’t even aware of the threat because of that overwhelming connection with community, with each other. And that really struck me because I spent much of my life in Southern California  trying to build environmental awareness and have people re-plant  and restore the forest.But  there was so little real connection between people. The water tank connection spanned politics. It wasn’t a political question at all. hey were expressing, “We need each other. We are better together.”

I fell in love with that, and in fact my heart opened so much that I met a woman named Kate at the end of a month of speaking about trees and we fell in love.

That caused me to focus on  building a deeper model of how we could better solve the problems here.

So what was your question again, because that was a foundational perspective…

K: What are the aspects that keep you awake at night, and what do you see as some of the successes?

A: What keeps me awake at night is knowing our vulnerability. How severely we have broken the ecosystem through our ignorance, through our non-engagement, through our professionalizing the management of the ecosystem by delegating it primarily to government professionals. That means  to very few people instead of all humanity.  And even with very good scientists doing their best, they are usually working within single-purpose agencies — bureaucracies — that aren’t equipped,  allowed, or empowered to focus on the whole ecosystem. It is the ecosystem that provides everything we need to be healthy and safe: our water, food, and climate.  In America, we humans are primarily called consumers. When told what the people want, it is said: ‘consumers want this.’ And following that line, we are told that our value, success, and  happiness as individuals is determined by our ability to consume..

The problem with that is that it never stops because what we humans need is water, food, love, feedback, connection, and relationships. We need power, but power is understanding that what we do, what we intend, can happen. We can make it happen. We can make a difference. That’s power. We need to be heard and understood, and we need to listen to, hear and understand other people. We need love, we need touch, we need food, and we need our waste recycled and our energy restored. That’s all modeled in every aspect of the natural ecosystem. When that flows, we are happy. We feel the love; we feel we make a difference. We feel powerful and needed. The work we do validates us.

It seems that somewhere, sometime, consumerism was inserted into our life equation. And with it, our experience of the value of our food, touch, and even love, is  ranked and based on our spending as a consumer. Somehow, that ranking has the power to diminish the nurturing and fulfillment value of those “experiences”, leaving us craving for more symbols of value, which also can’t fulfill their promise. And that becomes something akin to spiritual, moral, nutritional starvation.  Just like when we eat predominantly sugar, what we consume doesn’t actually feed us what we need. It keeps us hungry and starves us of the things we really need. So we consume more and more. It’s the same with consumer products that don’t feed our spirit. And similarly, we are now consuming and destroying more of Earth’s natural resources and life support systems than can be sustained.  We have a whole world that is pursuing consumption. Many people do it just to survive. But most of the consumption is happening not from poor people or people of little means. It’s people with very big appetites that are not fulfilled. And in so doing, we have broken and taken down the natural cycles that renew, that produce abundant water and food and safety and health.

As a person who’s paid attention most of my life to urban systems and disasters, it just happened that I grew up at the foot of the Baldwin Hills in southwest LA. We had fires there, and we had a dam break, and flooding, and people died.I became very aware and attuned to that need to be able to help people, and to be able to respond and not get hurt. That has been a through line of my life. The more I’ve understood and seen, the more attention I’ve paid to our fragility. I’ve studied it.

LA got hit by a 100-year storm in 1978. I had grown TreePeople, and we were good at mobilizing volunteers and planting trees, but the floods started to happen and people called the city for help. They were told, “We’ve got nothing for you. We don’t do that.”

So their houses were getting inundated with mud and water that was flowing because the houses had been built in canyons, and canyons were hills that had been cut by flowing water over time. The houses were built where they shouldn’t have been and therefore the people were losing their homes and their lives. Someone called and asked if we could bring them a truckload of shovels because they needed to build sandbag walls. So we drove down there and saw that they needed more than just shovels. They needed people, too. So we went door to door and got neighbors together and built a 60-person army of shovelers and sandbaggers and saved two houses. The City Councilman watched that happen.

That part of the storm went away and everything seemed cool and then a major storm cell came – the big one. And the city councilmember called me and asked me if I could do what I did last time, but on a city-wide scale. I was 22 and said ‘of course!.’ I had no idea what I was saying yes to, but I had a smart team of 5-6 people.e like to say we operated as a fire crew – whoever had skill in an event would be the lead of that thing. We pulled ourselves together and said, “ow are we going to do this?”

We created a plan, and the city said “What do you need?”, and I said, “We need a hotline from the emergency command center to our office. And I need 10 phone lines.” We can put word out to the public through the media and they can call us if they can help. And we did that.

And the storm got bad and people were aware that flooding was happening and we hit the media. There were no cell phones, there was no internet, there was nothing. It was all manual.

We put out a press release that said we needed able bodied people 18 years old and up, and if you want to help, give us a call. We screened people on the phone and if they sounded sane and capable, we told them where to come and we put them into teams. What showed up was an army of willing people across the spectrum of politics and some very skilled people – HAM radio operators, off road vehicle clubs who volunteered to help.

So within 12 hours, we had communications and vehicles that could get places where the police cars and firetrucks couldn’t get. As people were calling for help, they would call us or call the city, and the city transferred them to us and we dispatched hundreds of people.

And over three days, 1200 volunteers saved about 300 homes.

When the storm was over, everyone went back to work and that was done. Two years later, it happened again and it was bigger. And this time we knew what we were doing and we built trust with various players. This time, we had to build a bigger operation. 3000 volunteers worked over a 10 day period and saved about 1200 homes. This time the media was watching. And again, it was just huge. Looking back, one thing that’s important to know is that this was an “early onset” event of severe and extreme climate change, manifesting in a way that outstripped the ability of government to be able to meet the promise of protecting people. This was 1978 and 1980. Well, that reset my life to think about fire, water and other stuff.

We had amassed this miraculous kind of operation. It was just people caring, people coming together. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw our vulnerabilities, and the more I began to focus on the notion of resilience and preparedness. I saw how Australia saved its people from a drought. I knew we had a drought coming. It was baked into our system along with flooding, extremes and other climate threats.  Over the years, I just paid more and more attention and tried to engage important questions: How do we build a water system that is more resilient by not throwing that water away? How do we protect the hills so they don’t flood by planting?

That answers the question. What keeps me up is seeing our vulnerability and how easy it is for us to crash.

In July 2017, I was asked to speak at an urgent conference that was pulled together by the head of the California Resources Agency, which includes CalFire, the statewide fire fighting force and emergency services, all of that. e pulled 200 state leaders together and invited me and four other speakers. By then I’d been working on all these solutions. He didn’t say why he called the conference. I just knew if he was calling it, it had to be important.

He gathered everyone together and he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, the reason why you’re here is that the infrastructure that we’ve built in this state to protect people from severe and extreme weather has been overtaken by climate change. We can no longer guarantee the safety and protection of the people, or the economy. And that’s why you’re here. And that’s all I have to say.”

We were stunned.

He asked me to present our models of what we need to be thinking about for emergency preparedness and for coordinating infrastructure investments amongst diverse agencies who didn’t normally work together.. Significantly, the following week hurricane Hugo struck Houston, and proved the point. And the week after that, it was a Florida hurricane. Once again, people were on their own. Then in New Orleans, during the following week and the fourth week, there were three concurrent hurricanes in the Gulf. Unprecedented. Never had there been that. I was like, “Wow, this is incredible.”

And then it shifted to California. We had the Santa Rosa fire. People smelled smoke. They called 911 and were told “There’s no reports of fire. We don’t know of any.”

But the winds were moving at 50 miles an hour, and the fire was moving so fast. Even if they had known about the fire from the beginning, they couldn’t get fire trucks in fast enough. People have 30 seconds to a minute or two to evacuate and check on their neighbor and evacuate them.

It laid out the conditions. There were people who tried to wake up their neighbors, but who hadn’t had a conversation with them, like “How are your tanks? Do you need help?” How do we deal with this?”

When you’ve only got 30 seconds or a minute, and you’ve rung the doorbell a couple of times, and there’s no answer, if you haven’t had a conversation that says, “Do you want me to rescue you? If you don’t wake up because you’ve got earplugs in and you’re asleep, do you want me to throw a rock through your window and get you?” If you haven’t had that conversation, the possibility that there could be a gun on the other side is going to cause you to pause for at least 30 seconds. You have to decide whether you want to risk your life to be killed trying to rescue somebody. And that is in fact what played out in Santa Rosa. Over 5,000 homes burned in less than two hours, that’s a blowtorch. Some people died. Some people escaped. They escaped with their lives. But that was that scenario. And three-four weeks later, it happened again at the Thomas fire in Ojai and Ventura.

K: And then the Paradise fire, yes?

A: Boom! Yes. The following year, I think. And it continues to this past year. So that’s where we’re at. It’s kept me awake for a good 40 years. I know that we can organize ourselves.  What also really keeps me awake now is that we’re so focused on our divisions instead.

K: I want to ask you about the Green New Deal and Mayor Garcetti. I think that this is really his response to what has been keeping you awake for 40 years. Could you share a little about that and then go into the UCLA study?

A: As I studied water and the Australian solutions to drought that I first saw back in 1982, I began to think about how we could apply that. We asked:  What if we could capture the rainwater that falls on LA, that we currently throw away, keep it here, use the Australian model and tanks, could that prevent flooding as well as being our water supply? The answer was Yes. Could it employ people in large numbers using human energy to capture and deliver our water supply instead of petroleum and carbon-based fuels to pump it over the mountains and  into LA from hundreds of miles away? The answer, as I did progressively more studies, was yes. And I created and organized demonstration projects to show that this was possible.

Mayor Garcetti’s first internship when he was in high school was at TreePeople. He’s proud to say that. He learned a lot. Of course, he’s a really, really brilliant person, and he’s learned a lot. He’s of the generation that gets sustainability, and he’s helped lead that.

I have spent decades trying to show that we receive enough rainfall in Los Angeles to meet at least half our needs if we captured it.  After the 1992 civil unrest in response to the Rodney King trial, the conclusion of sociologists about the cause of the violence, was chronic unemployment of urban youth with no hope of participating in the economy, thus LA needed to create 50,000 new jobs. (Now, some 29 years later, the perspectives are quite different as to the causes of racial violence, yet the urgent need for employment and liveable wages remains). At that time, creating those jobs required an investment of $500 million per year, and the City didn’t have those funds available for a sustained investment..  As a co-founding Board member of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, whose mission is to develop youth employment, I began looking for that $500 million.  I thought I found it when the US Army Corps of Engineers announced they were going to spend $500 million to build parapet walls on the southern portion of the LA River to prevent flooding from 100 year storms. They discovered during the 1978 100 year storm that the river just began to top the levees, just before the rain stopped and a massive flood was averted.

It occurred to me that if we applied the Australian approach of wide scale deployment of cisterns, and added remote controlled valves, that the cisterns could be networked to create the widely distributed rainwater capture and storage equivalent of a very large dam such as the ones deployed around the country for the dual purposes of flood control and water supply. Instead of treating the city of LA as a drain, we could instead see it as a smart and climate safe urban forest watershed.  I found out that the City spent roughly $1 billion dollars per year to import and distribute water to all its residents, and the County flood control agency spent roughly a half billion dollars a year removing the rainwater. It seemed to me–rather naively retrospectively–that by capturing the rainwater and serving it, we could save enough money from the import and export of our water to pay for the 50,000 jobs. When engineers from several agencies thought I was either naive or nuts,  I set out to prove that the idea was technically, socially and economically feasible. It took ten years, but with the help of funding from the US Forest Service and generous TreePeople donors, and teamwork of very smart technology geniuses, designers, landscape architects, and economists working under the umbrella of the T.R.E.E.S. Project (Trans-agency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability), we accomplished the goal of demonstrating feasibility.  The then head of LA County Flood Control, Carl Blum,  was so moved he invited me to collaborate with him and many others, and then led a major multi-agency effort to test and demonstrate feasibility by scaling the approach to solve a chronic flooding problem in Sun Valley, one of LA’s suburbs. The Sun Valley Watershed project and program is a $200 million program with some parts operating and others still under construction. It has become a powerful international model for a new approach to sustainable water management through multi-agency collaboration and coordination, as it continues to unfold.

When Mayor Garcetti updated the city’s sustainability Plan for LA, and named it the Green New Deal, TreePeople had by then engaged the LA Department of Water and Power to conduct their own study on the potential of rainwater harvesting to meet LA’s needs. Their resulting Rainwater Capture Master Plan calculated the amount of rain water that could be captured. TreePeople calculated that  if it was properly managed, it could be enough to  meet half of the city’s needs. I got excited that that could mean that we wouldn’t have to be importing from the Owens Valley/Payahuunadu and that we could start undoing what may have been legal but that was definitely unjust – of taking all that water, changing everyone’s lives there forever, changing the ecosystem and creating significant health impacts such as lung cancer and all the consequences of that.

The City’s Green New Deal set a goal of 70% local water through conservation and rainwater harvesting. But we had shown that we could get halfway there just by capturing the rain. At the same time, UCLA created a series of grand challenges, one of which was making LA sustainable by getting us to a point where we could have 100% locally supplied water. They succeeded with the water challenge within a couple of years. The study is out, and it shows that yes, we can get to 100% local water. It’s not easy but doable. By building on a foundation of 50% captured rainwater,  managing that water really well, continuing the water conservation levels LA residents achieved during the drought of 2013-17 in which LA residents reduced their average water use to 50 gallons per person per day–down from roughly 125 gallons per person per day, that we could achieve the target.

The study said, if we hold water use to 50 gallons per person per day, plus capture the rain, plus clean up the San Fernando valley aquifer and serve that water. (The San Fernando Valley aquifer is contaminated by toxic chemicals from manufacturing airplanes in World War II. It’s totally cleanable and can be served.  The city is already investing in that system so it’s starting to happen. The final thing would be to recycle the water in the city’s three sewage treatment plants. Instead of throwing it out to the ocean, fully recycle it and make it available for water needs. It doesn’t even have to be drinking water, because drinking water is only about half the water we use. The other half is for landscaping and other non-potable uses.  Mayor Garcetti has now committed Los Angeles to achieving full recycling of all the water in its 3 wastewater treatment plants–and the work has begun on the largest one.

It important to note that the state-of-the-art of water recycling is you can now drink it straight out of the plant. People have a yuk factor, but it’s already being done all over. The people of LA don’t tend to realize that they’re drinking the water that once was the Sacramento River and includes treated waste water. The intake for the pipe down to Los Angeles is a half mile from the sewage treatment plant from the city of Sacramento. So that water has been cleaned, gone into the river and sent to us. I was shocked to learn that. We, the people of LA, aren’t generally aware of it. It’s not being kept from us. It’s just not on our radar. And if you live in New Orleans, you’re drinking water that’s been through 23 people on the way down the Mississippi in and out of the river as it travels through the heart of America…right? There’s no new water on the planet. All of it is recycled by Nature.   Sometimes I take a sip of water and say, “this is dinosaur pee”…

So that gets us to 100%. Recycling the water from the waste treatment plant and keeping our water use at 50 gallons per day. That may sound aggressive, but the people in Australia during their millennium drought, 2000 to 2010, dropped their water use from 50 gallons per person per day, down to 25 or 30. They cut it in half. And they did it by capturing rainwater and distributing and having tanks across their cities. Roughly 40% of people in Sydney and Melbourne installed rain tanks that the government helped make very cheap and available. And in Brisbane and Adelaide, 50% of the homes installed rain tanks. For those who don’t know Australia, the city of Melbourne is the same size as the city of LA, 4 million people. So it’s a massive task that they carried out, and they deployed it fast. They also built desalination plants but they didn’t need the water they produced because people conserved so well. That can be the same story here.

It’s important to look at the UCLA study because it says that LA can get to 100% without importing any water, that includes leaving the water in Owens Valley/Payahuunadu. The city of LA is not yet committed to that. In fact, I presume all the fears about climate make them want to not lose any of their current supply. But getting it right with the ecosystem is a pretty important thing because we can’t live without the ecosystem. I don’t need to say more. It’s possible for us to take care of each other and the ecosystem that enables our lives and everyone else’s.

K: What are you doing, or what can you do, to have LA people learn where their water comes from, and the sacrifices being made in the Owen’s Valley/Payahuunadu?

A: In the Valley and also all the other places where we’re causing damage because we’re importing and throwing away water. We’re still importing 90% of our water right now and it causes great harm. It’s all done in our name and we don’t know it. It’s very hard for us to believe and understand that we can cause harm to people, to people’s lives, to their economic hopes and possibilities because we are good people and don’t intend to do harm.   The entire Owens Valley/Payahuunadu, a five-hour drive north of Los Angeles, is owned by the city of Los Angeles. Every house, every business has an LA water meter on it. The people of LA don’t know that. The people of LA don’t know that you can’t open a business in the Owens Valley/Payahuunadu without permission of the City of LA. Viewed today, that’s oppressive.

People of LA don’t really know and understand that the Paiute and Shoshone people who have lived there for 10,000 years, and always managed the water, lived in relationship with the water so that it was an abundant, healthy valley. One example is the Owens Lake/Patsiata, one of the bigger lakes in North America is a critical stopover in global wildlife bird migration. All incredibly important aspects of the functioning of the ecosystem that keep us safe, and that we unwittingly dismantle this very important link to the planet just by breaking that water cycle, making lives miserable. And that we’re doing that while perpetually throwing away all the water that falls here. If we were conscious of this, I believe we would value it, and we could absolutely reduce what we have to import. We can absolutely bring a sense of justice and healing to the lives of people who have very little hope of living a whole, healthy life under those conditions.

After I retired from TreePeople I couldn’t stop working. This passion, this thing that keeps me awake at night, all that experience that I’ve just talked about, led me to know that we needed to accelerate resilience. Understanding that resilience means creating an ability to live, to bounce forward, to survive and do better by how we manage our water and our waste. And seeing that there were viable solutions everywhere, I believed we needed to step up and to use new cutting edge technologies that can show everybody where their water comes from and help us easily conserve it.  Add to that, the impact of knowing where our rainwater goes when we don’t capture it – when water runs off the roof and down the driveway and picks up the oil that may have leaked out of the car, flows into the street and down into the storm drain and makes it to the ocean and may be swallowed by fish that become contaminated, as people are catching and eating them here in LA. Or that the contaminants stay in the ocean and go on a ride around the ocean and go to other communities, where the North Pacific Current carries it all the way to Alaska and around down the east side of Russia and Japan and people are eating those fish all over the world, that’s the same as eating the pollutants from our driveway, from our car, from our roads. We can actually show all of those flows. And it’s real. It’s science, it’s trackable, it’s traceable. We’re building the ability to have people understand our impact and to see our ability to change it and our ability to improve our lives when we change it.

K: Even though LA still relies so heavily on water from Payahuunadu, in the Owens Valley, the Paiute people are still rarely included in the decision-making process. What are you doing, or can you do, to ensure the voice of the tribal people are listened to for any and all decisions regarding water?

A: Well, I think now is the time. I think that we’re all waking up to understand that all voices need to be heard, and that everybody is human, and that we’ve been living in a way, as a culture, that has not held people as equal and held their needs and honored their rights of basic decency and survival. The stories are increasingly being told with movies and media about the impact that we’re having today. I think it’s a very powerful moral issue that once we see it and understand what is happening, we have the power to make a choice about whether we want to endanger others lives at all. We can choose,  without really diminishing our quality of life, to make it possible for some water, if not all of it, to stay in the Owen’s Valley/Payahuunadu. It’s all become a desert because we’ve taken all the water, pumping it from groundwater, lowering the level of water under the valley floor, so all the trees that were there are dying. Fixing this is within reach. We have to tell the true story that the people of the Owens Valley have been enabling our lives, and we need to enable theirs –  their lives, their health, as whole human beings that are the same as us. The same needs. They’re not asking for much. Justice.

K: You mentioned your focus on accelerating climate resilience in your new role as Project Executive of Accelerate Resilience LA. Could you share a little more about the mission and how you’re carrying that out?

A: As I’ve talked about, we’ve done the damage from decades of mismanagement of the environment, and it’s time for a new story – one that motivates and mobilizes people across the board to take action, action that’s within reach. We have to understand that we can supply our water by capturing the rain. We can radically increase our water by not wasting it, and by capturing it. So it starts with us realizing that our neighborhoods are ground zero for a climate revolution. We need to reframe the focus of climate change from an insurmountable global problem, way beyond us, to achievable local solutions, right at our homes, that prove that small, intentional actions have a huge impact. Its not that our actions CAN have an impact, they DO. If we can create a shared vision of climate resilience, that’s rooted in taking small actions that build on each other, we can do more than we think possible in less time. We can practically turn on a dime because we each have the choice. We don’t even have to make policy decisions. We can do it. And its not a sacrifice…we can make all of our lives better, healthier and safer.

And that’s exactly what you’re doing with Walking Water, creating space for collaborative thinking, organizing, working together. As someone who’s worked in the environmental movement for decades, I’ve seen how efforts and investments in our environment are too often diverted away from the neighborhoods where the most vulnerable and most impacted people live, here in our city as well as the Owens Valley. That’s why it’s incumbent on us to bring in a new generation of BIPOC leaders so that we can share knowledge and power and resources across generations and across communities. I’m really focused on that. So we share a vision of a thriving, equitable LA County, where every Angelino is empowered to nourish the health and wellbeing of our community.

Founder and former President of TreePeople. Andy Lipkis started planting trees to rehabilitate smog and fire damaged forests as a teenager. By age 18, he founded TreePeople, and served as its president from 1973 to 2019. Lipkis is a pioneer of Urban and Community Forestry and Urban Watershed Management. The Society of American Foresters and the American Society of Landscape Architects have, respectively, granted Lipkis the honorary titles of Forester and Landscape Architect in recognition of his life’s work.