Podcast: TreePeople’s Deborah Weinstein-Bloome

February 10, 2017

LA has never been known as a “green” city. That’s changing. Water conservation and recycling programs are in motion. Trees are being planted and greenspaces expanded. With a collaborative nature and an arsenal of green infrastructure solutions and progressive policy initiatives, TreePeople is at the forefront of the transformation. The nonprofit works with communities and government to grow a climate-resilient Los Angeles with ample tree canopy, local water and a sustainable future. Carrying out that mission is Deborah Weinstein-Bloome, Senior Director of Policy. With more than 20 years of experience in environmental policy, she facilitates collaboration between water agencies, helping them be more efficient and effective in managing water resources in the driest state of the nation. Listen to her conversation with The Freshwater Trust’s president Joe Whitworth above, or read a sampling of her interview below.


Q: So, transforming LA into a sustainable city takes more than grassroots change, that’s a phrase on TreePeople’s website. What do you mean by that?

A: Well, grassroots change is what TreePeople has been built upon for the last four decades. This region of Los Angeles is just too massive to transform into a climate and water resilient region one person at a time, or really one home or park at a time. So, while our grassroots will continue and must continue, part of TreePeople’s unique value is that we’ve paired our grassroots work with policy work. Since LA has four million people in the city alone and ten million in the county, we’ve found that working on policies is a nice balance to our grassroots work.


Q: Creating a sustainable city is no mean feat, particularly one as big as Los Angeles. Collaboration and integration are pretty big themes of your work, and you seem to be driving water management out of its historic silos. A great example is The Greater LA Water Collaborative. What’s the history of that and what’s it doing now?

A: Let me first explain what it is, and then I’ll tell you a little bit about the history. The Greater LA Water Collaborative is in our opinion, a groundbreaking collaborative comprised of three giants in LA’s water infrastructure. It’s the LA Department of Water and Power, the utility that’s responsible for bringing in all of the city of LA’s water supply. Secondly it has LA City’s Bureau of Sanitation, they handle all of the water quality and water recycling work, and lastly LA County’s Flood Control District, so anything to deal with flooding as well as the other water issues in the county is handled by that group. TreePeople is facilitating these three key water infrastructure agencies to craft integrated solutions to local water challenges. Now your question about why this was formed I think hits on the central water dilemma at this time in California and elsewhere. As you know in the early 20th century, the entire west was basically built to conquer water and all of our natural resources, and tame it for our benefits. We built dams, we converted our wetlands and rivers and streams, and then we replaced each of these ecosystem components with bureaucracies to manage each element of that ecosystem cycle. And while this worked for a really long time, the negative consequences are all around us now. Physically we have severe water quality issues, we have flooding, we certainly have a lack of local water supplies. But also economically, it’s just not efficient. The reason it’s not efficient is because each of these agencies is ruled and governed by different regulations and mandates, many with significant price tags. Therefore for each of those agencies to meet their individual plans and implement them, they’re doing them separately. So that takes us back to the point of this collaborative. TreePeople took a look at this and thought there has to be a better way. I have to give credit to these agencies, they stepped up to the plate and are working with us from the general manager level all the way down to the project management level to determine ways they can jointly plan, fund, build, and maintain projects together.


Q: What were some of the results that you saw?

A: In short, if we were to step back and say let’s have 100% implementation, we would have 30 billion gallons per year of local water and it would address 15% of our water quality issues. In terms of water resilience, how much water you would have on hand if there were a natural emergency or disaster to keep water from being imported, the average person would have 230-400 per person days of emergency water at home. So we really believe it’s this type of data that’s going to allow these agencies, moving forward, to pool their resources and collaboratively work to shift water management in the LA region.


Q: So you’re 20 years in doing this work, look out 20 years from now, what is your greatest hope?

A: 20 years from now, given how long things take to progress in water wars in California, I really hope that we finally put to bed this issue of where we have to import more water from, and we have the plan, infrastructure, policies, and funding, to have 100% of our water supply come from local sources.

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