About Water LA

The Water LA urban acupuncture program was conceived by The River Project and funded with a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy. It is designed to activate a network of cross-sector collaboration to engage communities in realizing the common goal of climate resiliency.

  • We have enough to live on, but not enough to waste.

    Dorothy Green , local conservation leader on water in Los Angeles
Even in the driest of years, billions of gallons of water are wasted in Los Angeles: flushed into the ocean with pollution and trash through our streets, storm drains and channelized waterways. Meanwhile, we’re facing climate disruptions that create longer periods of drought and stronger storms when it does rain. The goal of Water LA is to create accessible urban acupuncture strategies that capture, conserve, and reuse our local water resources.

Los Angeles’ three big climate challenges are drought, flood, and fire.  A more integrated approach to land use and water is key to all these. Water LA was designed to bring together non-profits, residents, small business, and local agencies in a collaborative, urban acupuncture approach to water sustainability in Los Angeles. This bottom-up, community-driven, micro-scale approach is as critical to climate resilience as municipal-scale action. With over 60% of the urban area occupied by residential property, engaging and empowering residents to play an active role in creating thousands of small-scale changes can unite communities and catalyze rapid positive transformation. By working cooperatively, we can catalyze a new normal in our relationship to water and land use, and support a grass roots effort to retrofit for resilience.

The original project team has been tasked with identifying and eliminating barriers to engagement, and with developing a set of tools and strategies for Angelenos that would be accessible and affordable for the widest possible audience.  We work closely with homeowners to develop these tools through an iterative process.

Water LA focuses on six key Urban Acupuncture strategies to help Angelenos retrofit for resilience: Rain Tanks, Rain Grading, Greywater, Parkway Retrofits, Breaking up Hardscapes, and Infiltration Trenches.

As part of the program, we help residents learn about the benefits of each strategy, working with our partners to co-teach hands-on workshops on: regional water and climate challenges; how to look at the opportunities on their property in dry years and wet; how to decide what strategies to choose (and which to avoid if there are geologic constraints); how to size them in relation to their property features; how to design them properly; how to build them if they’re handy (or what to look for in hiring someone if they’re not); and how to steward them. Along the way, we teach how to build healthy soils, remove lawn successfully, select native and climate appropriate plants, grow an edible landscape, change over an irrigation system, and ways to conserve water indoors, too. Guidance is provided in English and Spanish.

The initial pilot area in Panorama City is adjacent to the Woodman Avenue Median Project, in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. The site was chosen for its highly permeable soils, its diverse population, and its adjacency to the median. Co-locating a municipal green infrastructure project with upstream urban acupuncture helps us explore the beneficial relationship between small-scale distributed strategies and larger municipal efforts to decrease urban runoff and recharge groundwater stores. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power funded the second, smaller pilot in an LA River-adjacent neighborhood of Studio City.

Residents made commitments to attend workshops, complete a site assessment, select and design their strategies, participate in implementing the projects on their property and on at least one neighbor’s property, provide access to water use data, and become good stewards.  We helped connect them up with incentives and materials, labor or expertise to complete the projects of their choice.

We brought in sister non-profits and local businesses that specialize in greywater, landscape maintenance, sustainable construction practices, etc. to work closely with us in teaching workshops and to work alongside neighbors in project installations so that everyone has the opportunity to transfer expertise and develop best practices in this new arena.

A key objective is to create consistent guidance that the City can endorse and adopt. The Departments of Planning, Sanitation, Street Services, Building & Safety and Water & Power are collaborating with us in a technical review of our draft plans, to ensure that they meet standards, but are also understandable to the average Angeleno. Once finalized, these strategy plans and ‘How-To’ guides will become a new chapter in the City’s Low Impact Development guidebook for voluntary adoption by homeowners.

Another is to make this website a one-stop, bi-lingual resource for Angelenos to find workshops, the strategy plans, the How-To guides and videos, available incentives, information on completed projects, resources and local expertise. We’re developing an innovative tool that will make it simple for residents to create their own site assessment and get immediate information on what constraints and opportunities exist on their properties, help them design their project online, and provide calculations on the economic and environmental benefits their chosen combination of strategies.

As Water LA grows, opportunities for green jobs will expand along with a burgeoning market for certified professionals with the skills to design, implement, and maintain urban acupuncture strategies.

Meanwhile, we’re identifying what existing codes and ordinances are counterproductive to climate resilience and working with the City to address these barriers. We’re also looking at where permits and fees might be adjusted, at developing additional incentives to encourage participation, and at building a stronger collaborative network of Water LA educators and practitioners across the public and private sector.