Rainwater Harvesting Comes of Age – Managing Drought, Climate Change & Community

by Vins

In light of a growing population, climate change, and projected long-term water shortages, many cities are being forced to rethink water use. The city of Los Angeles currently imports more than 85 percent of its water, and yet every year LA drains billions of gallons of rainwater straight into the ocean. What if they valued rainwater as a resource rather than treated it as nuisance? Last year was one of the driest on record, yet LA still received 3.6 inches of rainwater (28 billion gallons) that went straight into the ocean. That’s 6,500 gallons per person for all the 4 million residents of LA!

Given humanity’s increasing needs for water, new leaders are stepping forward to offer time-proven techniques to meet urgent local needs. TreePeople is working with the City of Los Angeles to rewrite its stormwater management plan and develop distributed rainwater harvesting, conservation and landscape transformation. They suggest that restoring the capacity to store, slow, and filter water will solve many problems and vastly reduce the need for external water.

Australia experienced a 12-year dry spell in the 1990s—the Millennium Drought. Using education and restrictions, Australians achieved impressive conservation rates and created new sources of water across the country. For example, over 45% of homes now have rainwater cisterns in Adelaide—a city with similar climate and rainfall to LA.

Rajendra Singh is a quiet Indian activist who has empowered poor farmers, by reviving traditional knowledge and guiding people to build small rainwater ponds. In this way, he brought five rivers and a thousand villages back to life over the past 30 years. In fall 2105, he’ll receive the highly reputed Stockholm Water Prize. The World Bank argues that countries like India need to return to building large dams. Rajendra Singh’s life work proves the opposite is true.

Such projects have become test cases for a much larger strategy to boost the water supply every time it rains across entire regions. Planning together we can create a drought-smart community that can adapt to the imminent, dry future ahead.


Madeline Ostrander. “LA Imports Nearly 85 Percent of Its Water – Can It Change That by Gathering Rain?” YES! Magazine, January 5, 2015, http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/cities-are-now/los-angeles-imports-nearly-85-percent-of-its-water.

Andy Lipkis, “Reimagining California’s Water Infrastructure,” TreePeople Blog, November 26, 2014, http://blog.treepeople.org/treepeople-news/2014/11/parched-lawns-wasted-water-reimagining-californias-infrastructure#.VRc7z-Fz_IU.

Peter Bosshard. “Rainwater Harvesting Pioneer Wins International Water Prize.” Huffington Post, March 20, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-bosshard/rainwater-harvesting-pion_b_6911280.html.

Student Researcher: Nguyet (Kelley) Thi Luu (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)