A Sea of Success in 2015

Written by: Gabe Andrews

Skimming Skimmer

Our senses are constantly bombarded with the woes of the world. The familiar fragrance of gasoline permeates our nostrils in stalling traffic; smog encircles the burbs and bronchi. We hear the stories of violence and unrest from the talking heads on television, to which we’ve become distressingly accustomed. We see images of plastic oceans and oceans of plastic. We glaze over.

The oceans, though they feel everything we do, are not burdened by the knowledge of an uncertain future with unstable humans.  They live on, especially when we give them room to do so. 2015 was a good year for oceans. We should talk about it and why it matters.

2015 Heroes 

  1. Palau. This western Pacific island made an awe-inspiring move last October. With the stroke of a pen, 500,000km2 of ocean found protection from industrial and foreign fishing. That’s an area representing an astonishing 80% of Palau’s waters [1].
  1. Chile. Following in the footsteps of the late Doug Tompkins, Chile preserved 397,000km2 of it’s waters, with an additional 631,000 km2 proposed to join the club [1].
  1. New Zealand. The Kiwis have always had a reputation for being green, but they upped their game last year when they designated 620,000km2 of ocean as a non-take preserve [1], which is essentially the area all of New Zealand’s land mass. Doubled.
  1. The United Kingdom. Rounding out the groundbreakers (or seabreakers) for 2015 is another island nation. With the declaration of the Pitcairn Island Marine Reserve, the UK created the largest fully protected marine area in the world with a whopping 834,000km2 of South Pacific waters secured [1].

Courtesy of Marine Conservation Institute

In total, these four countries conserved an area the size of two Alaskas. Besides a victory for depleted fish stocks and crumbling coral reefs, the designation of some 2,982,000km2 as marine protected area (MPA) in 2015 could also help ecosystems cope with the effects of our carbon appetite.

Climate change threatens to bring more than stronger storms, longer droughts, and crop crises. We notice these things because our eyes are fixed on the land and skies around us. But our oceans may face even greater pressures [2]. Researchers predict that intact habitats are the best defense against such stress. Marine ecosystems protected at a large scale have a stronger capacity to “absorb climate impacts.” [3]. With an estimated worldwide coral loss of 70% by 2050 [4] we need to encourage all of the resilience we can. In addition to absorbing climate impacts, MPAs provide a buffering capacity for bordering waters [5], often with spillover effects that restore ecosystem dynamics [6]. Coupled with enhancing diversity, healthy communities have the ability to increase resistance to—and recovery from—disturbance over time [7], a promising thought given the projected changes that lie ahead.

Loggerhead Sunrise. By: Gabe Andrews

In all, we have protected 2.2% of our oceans in 13,674 designated areas around the globe; awaiting proposals could bring the total up to 3.6% this year [1]. Small nations like Palau and New Zealand have given us reason for optimism. Using different models on land and at sea, we can work together to protect habitats that could assuage the consequences of climate change and help diversity thrive. As cohorts of citizens, we should continue to urge our elected officials to protect ecosystems and their functions. As individuals, we should reduce our consumption and our carbon footprint. Beyond the practical necessity to preserve vast stretches of ocean, lies the appeal to remember that “if there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” [8]



  1. MPAtlas Marine Conservation Institute: http://www.mpatlas.org/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2016
  2. U.S. EPA: Climate Change Indicators in the United States: http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/oceans/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2016
  3. Graham, et al.,2008. Climate warming, marine protected areas and the ocean-scale integrity of coral reef ecosystems. PLoS ONE 3(8) e3039.
  4. Mcleod, E. et al., 2009. Designing marine protected area networks to address the impacts of climate change Designing to address marine the area protected of climate impacts networks change. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(7), pp.362–370.
  5. NOAA Marine Protected areas http://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov. Accessed 23 Feb. 2016.
  6. Micheli, F. et al., 2012. Evidence that marine reserves enhance resilience to climatic impacts. PLos ONE 7(7), e40832
  7. Bernhardt, J.R., and Leslie, H.M. 2013. Resilience to climate change in coastal marine ecosystems. Annual Review of Marine Science 5, pp.371-392.
  8.  Eiseley, L. C.,1953. The Flow of the River. The American Scholar22(4), 451–458



Another Day, Another Dollar

The average American is fairly conscious of their monetary spending. With an issue such as climate change why not use this reality to our advantage? Truth be told, a number of daily activities can be altered to help the planet without hurting your wallet!

While this may seem like old news, I want to reiterate some very simple, money saving changes that we can make to reduce waste and improve the climate trajectory. Since food is necessary and continually present in our daily lives, let’s focus our attention there. In fact, let’s cut an even smaller slice of the pie and consider our household refrigerators and the foods we put in them.

The average American household spends around $6600 on food annually – about $4000 on groceries with an additional $2600 spent eating out [4]. Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 5.27.34 PMBehind housing and transportation, food represents one of the largest portions of the American budget – approximately 13% [4]. Unfortunately, a significant portion of this money is wasted when food spoils or is left uneaten. Scientists believe that approximately 40% of American food is wasted [2,6]. While much of this waste can be attributed to practices outside of individual homes, it’s hard to deny our partial accountability. In fact, the average American is accused of wasting 25% of the food they bring home [6]. Ok, lets do the math – $4000 spent on groceries and 25% goes to waste – the average household throws out $1000 each year! If you had 1000 dollars would you wrap it in plastic and toss it into a landfill? Probably not.

As a consumer we can only benefit from reducing our waste. Some strategies for reducing waste are as easy as planning meals, being conscious of the foods in your home and strategically using the freezer. If $1000 isn’t enough of an incentive, consider the environmental impact of these simple changes. By reducing household waste we can moderate greenhouse gas emission from multiple angles. Reduced waste means reduced demand – food production is a major source of carbon emission – lower consumer demands equal lower emissions [2].
Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 11.08.18 AMAdditionally, less food decomposing in landfills means less methane entering the atmosphere [2].

Why not protect our pockets and the environment at the same time – being aware and resourceful with the food in our fridge is a small contribution with double the incentive. Speaking of refrigerators… lets shift gears and consider the “cool incentives” this appliance has to offer. Chilling food allows us to significantly extend shelf life, improve food accessibility and when used appropriately, reduce waste. The refrigerator has its down sides of course. Refrigerators require a constant supply of electricity and account for 10 to 15 percent of a household’s monthly energy consumption [3]. Being one of the biggest electricity consumers in the average home, its important to ensure that this appliance is running as efficiently as possible [3].

When considering energy saving alternative, new “Energy Star” rated refrigerators are by far the most efficient option – up to 50% more efficient then their older counterparts [1,3]. However, replacing the refrigerator is not in the cards for many of us. Luckily, there are a few simple steps we can take to boost the efficiency of any run-of-the-mill refrigerator.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 7.16.13 PMFirst off, check the temperature settings! Your refrigerator should be set at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer should be between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit [5]. Saving energy is as easy as the flip of a switch – the “power-save” or “energy saver” switch that is – be sure it is turned on! Dropping the thermostat down by even 1 degree can make a significant difference in energy consumption [3].

Location and upkeep are other simple fixes that should be considered. Take a few minutes to look at your fridge. Is it near a large window or located by a heating vent?
If moving your fridge isn’t an option – and lets be real, its not for most – then consider covering the window to reduce sunlight exposure and be sure to close any heat vents near by. Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 7.16.51 PMReducing external heat sources will improve refrigerator efficiency [1]. While your admiring your refrigerator take a gander at the condenser coil (typically found on the back or underside of the fridge). Is it clean? Likely not. Cleaning the condenser coil is a very simple task that can improve the efficiency of your refrigerator by 1/3! [3] That’s basically free money!

Why not use monetary incentives to our advantage, sure these changes help the planet, but they also keep money in your pocket – anyone can afford to save money! These changes might seem trivial, but minor day-to-day actions add up. So, get acquainted with your refrigerator, give it a little TLC and lighten its load. As for the food, be aware of your purchases and the contents in your fridge; don’t let wasted food toll the environment, or your wallet!

Help the planet: Waste less. Save money!


[1] http://learn.compactappliance.com/refrigerator-efficiency-tips/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/03/upshot/what-you-can-do-about-climate-change.html?_r=0

[3] http://www.livescience.com/4091-10-ways-improve-earth-health.html

[4] http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/03/07/the-average-american-spends-this-much-on-groceries.aspx

[5] http://www.nrdc.org/air/energy/genergy.asp

[6] http://foodshift.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FoodWasteStatisticsandBibliography.pdf

Look who’s talking…

What if I asked you whether human-caused climate change were a real and imminent threat? Let’s imagine you wanted to respond with a pithy idiom. You might say:

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.06.20 PM

“Does a bear poop in the woods?”

Umm, well, I suppose so…




“Does the pope wear a funny hat?” Pope_Francis

Come to think of it….

But, speaking of the pope, does Francis agree with you on the matter? He sure does, calling climate change a “global problem with grave implications” in his 184-page encyclical Laudato Si this past September. Move over Al Gore, because the pope is not the only person with star power joining the climate change discussion on the international stage.

In 2014, Arnold Schwarzenegger and six other executive directors launched a documentary TV-series on climate change with celebrity correspondents including Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, and Harrison Ford. To paraphrase Schwarzenegger’s intention to air a second season of Years of Living Dangerously later in 2016, he more or less said, “I’ll be back.”

In September 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio lent his celebrity to the UN climate summit in New York. Although he did not make mention of it in his speech, his serious concerns over rising sea levels may have first set in when he filmed the final scenes of Titanic. The 2014 UN summit also opened with a short video on climate change narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman. Climate change deniers the world over cringed at this film, well aware that when Morgan Freeman narrates something, nature makes it so.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.13.27 PM.png

All jests aside, more celebrities are getting involved in climate change activism, and, in turn, hopefully engaging wider audiences on the topic. I am not sure I take heart in the fact that Han Solo and the Terminator are on board with cutting carbon emissions, but I think it is a good thing that more people are discussing the same agenda.

Or, at least tweeting about it—UVM researchers recently conducted an analysis of 1.5 million climate-related tweets, and tallied considerably more Twitter activity from climate change activists than from climate change deniers, “indicating that the twittersphere largely agrees with the scientific consensus on this issue.” 1 But, what about those near-mythical folks who dwell outside of the twittersphere?

After ducking out of the pouring rain on a 60°F day this past December, a friend of mine overheard this conversation while waiting in line at a Burlington pharmacy:

“You know, this is on account of global warning,” a man said of the weather to another woman waiting in line. “We’ll be seeing more of this as the glacier melts.”

Later, my friend and I puzzled over this conversation—is it good that people are connecting strange weather to global warming (or warning?) even if they are extremely confused by the terminology and the science behind climate change? At the very least, it’s more encouraging than politicians who deny that climate change exists.2

To me, recent stories of people taking extraordinary action against climate change are speaking more loudly than any misguided presidential candidate. For one, a growing chorus of island nations is making a powerful moral case to aggressively combat climate change on a global scale; check out Marshall Island poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the 2014 UN climate summit. 3 In another David and Goliath-type story, 21 young Americans are currently suing the U.S. government over climate change.4 They view U.S. promotion of fossil fuel as a direct affront to their right to enjoy a livable future. They may or may not win in court, but at the very least they ought to get people talking.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 3.25.32 PM

  1. Cody, E., A. Regan, L. Mitchell, P.S. Dodds, C. Danforth. 2015. Climate Change Sentiment on Twitter: an Unsolicited Public Opinion Poll. Plos One.
  1. Merchant, E. 2015. News Republic. How the 2016 Presidential Candidates View Climate Change. https://newrepublic.com/article/124381/2016-presidential-candidates-view-climate-change
  1. Mooney, C. and J. Warrick. 2015. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/12/11/how-tiny-islands-drove-huge-ambition-at-the-paris-climate-talks/
  1. Taylor, D. 2015. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/youth-obama-climate-change-lawsuit_us_55cbc451e4b064d5910a7183?utm_hp_ref=barack-obama

But Baby, It’s Cold Outside

It happens every winter. It is cold outside, there are kids to think about, our cars are old, and we need some way of looking out the windshield. All perfectly good excuses to go outside and warm our car up for a couple of minutes. While your car is warming up, it is spewing out carbon dioxide from its back end. A major greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

The average car emits 411 grams of CO2 per mile (USEPA, 2014). But how much CO2 is coming out of your car in the several minutes it warms up in the driveway? Let’s say the average person warms their car up for 10 minutes (Motavalli, 2012). And on average, that person drives at a speed of 40 miles an hour. Hence it takes 1 and half minutes to drive 1 mile (If I did my math correctly). Leaving their car idling in the driveway in those ten minutes means they could have driven 15 miles! This is also assuming they are going at a constant speed the moment they start driving, with no stopping. So, the real amount of miles is probably 10-15 miles. 15 miles times 411 grams of CO2 emitted per mile gives you a total of 6165 grams of CO2 emitted from the car idling in the driveway in that 10 minutes. That is a good amount of CO2 spewed into the atmosphere and they haven’t even started driving yet!

The fuel used to warm up cars, could have been used to produce more food.

But if I, just one person, warm up my car for a couple minutes it is okay right? Well, if only a handful of people do this, it wouldn’t be too bad. However, if everyone thinks this and warm up their car anyways, then we have millions of people each emitting 6165 grams on CO2 into the atmosphere. This is called tragedy of the commons, when individuals neglect the well-being of society in the pursuit of personal gains (Investopedia, 2009). In this case, individuals are neglecting to think about our atmosphere in the hopes of having a slightly warmer car.

Is there a benefit to starting up your car a couple minutes early? People normally warm up their car to get the engine warmed before driving. Or if your car is like mine, the power steering stinks and warming up your car is supposed to help with that. But it doesn’t. Warming up your car only warms up the engine and the interior of the car. It does not warm up the steering, wheel bearings, or the tires (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). The only way to warm up these parts of the car is to drive it.

We all have been guilty of this at some point. Warming up the car to have it be a little warmer before actually driving it. But this small benefit has major consequences, especially if a lot of people do it. It causes over 6000 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Next time, it gets chilly outside (as it does every winter), put on some gloves or a hat instead of warming up your car. Try scrapping the ice of your windshield instead of waiting for it to defrost. If you need to warm up your car, try cutting down the amount of time you let it idle. This small change can make a huge impact on the amount of CO2 that goes into our atmosphere.



  1. Epa, U.s. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle (EPA-420-F-14-040a, May 2014) (n.d.): n. pag. US Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Transportation and Air Quality, May 2014. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.
  2. “Tragedy Of The Commons Definition | Investopedia.”Investopedia. N.p., 22 Nov. 2009. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.
  3. Natural Resources Canada. “Vehicle Warm-Up.” Natural Resources Canada. Government of Canada, 1 Dec. 2015. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.
  4. Motavalli, Jim. “Better to Warm Up Your Car Or Not?” Esquire. N.p., 28 Jan. 2012. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.

The Grass is Always Greener

When it comes to energy, grass is the greener option. In the quest to phase out fossil fuels, researchers have recognized perennial grasslands as a practical and effective source of green energy. Grasses may hold the key to lower greenhouse gas emissions, lower energy costs, and healthier more sustainable agriculture.

Among the leading alternatives to fossil fuels, biomass is a low carbon emission and low cost alternative [3]. Other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, also perform well on the low cost/low carbon scale. However these sources – which are better suited for electrical energy – are unable to fulfill our fuel demands. Transient in nature and more vulnerable to variable weather conditions, wind and solar may prove better suited for supplemental energy [3]. Biomass, on the other hand, can be grown continually and converted directly to liquid fuels.

switchgrasscropWhen considering the viable sources of biomass, perennial grasses deliver a rather impressive resume. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and Eurasian elephant grass (Miscanthus giganteus) are perennials characterized by resilience, versatility, and high productivity [2,4]. With low moisture and high sugar content, these grasses are a great source of cellulosic material [2]. This material can be used as feedstock for anaerobic digesters to produce liquid biofuel or used as a combustion facility to produce energy or heat [2].

lIn a world facing increasing global hunger, the use of food crops for fuel production has come under great scrutiny. To address this issue, many countries have moved away from food crops – or food cropland – for biofuel production. In come perennial grasses! Switchgrass and elephant grass are resilient in nature and ideal for cultivation on land unsuitable for food crop production [4,5]. Even when grown on marginal lands, these grasses require little to no fertilizer, chemical assistance or mechanical maintenance [1,3,4]. Allowing for large-scale cultivation with limited impact on food crop production. In fact, if implemented properly, these grasses have the potential to improve food crop yields.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 2.19.56 PMSince these grasses are perennials, tilling can occur less frequently. This allows for higher levels of sequestered carbon to remain in the ground [1]. Switchgrass in particular, has exceptionally thick deep-set root systems, making it a highly effective carbon sink [4]. This sequestration process reduces greenhouse gases, while also improving soil quality. The increased carbon content in soil improves agricultural productivity by acting like an organic fertilizer [4].

The switch from corn to grass could have an immense impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 40% of the US corn harvest is currently being grown for biofuel (ethanol) [1]. Imagine the impact if this land was converted to perennial grasslands! Evan DeLucia, and his research team at the University of Illinois, created a climate model to test this impact. The results suggest that a shift to perennial grasses could transform the Midwest from a net source of greenhouse gases to a net sink! [1]

Shifting from corn to perennial grasses comes with additional advantages. Prairies and perennial grasslands provide considerable ecosystem services [5]. Ben Werling, and his research team at Michigan State University, compared ecosystem services in perennial grasslands and cornfields. They found nearly all ecosystem services, including methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination, and conservation of grassland birds, were higher in perennial grasslands [5].


These grasslands also improve biodiversity, naturally reduce invasives, and improve soil health [4,5]. If croplands are surrounded or intermixed with perennial grasses, they too may benefit from these services.

When it comes to the issues of climate change, cellulosic biofuels are just a bandaid on the bullet hole of excessive consumption. We the consumers must realize our impact and actively work to reduce our waste and energy demands. It’s important to be informed of our options when it comes to the future of energy. Prior to writing this post I had little knowledge of the diverse prospects for biofuel. Learning about the services that perennial grasses provide and the innovation of cellulosic bioenergy, I now have a brighter outlook on the future of biofuels. If we are able to transition away from food crop fuels toward a well-implemented mix of biomass, we may see benefits far beyond energy production. Through reduced consumer demand and help from cellulosic biofuels, we can foster a future of cleaner and greener energy. With perennial grasses at the forefront of biomass production, there is hope for low cost energy – both economically and environmentally.


[1] Grasses’ growing role for American cars http://climatenewsnetwork.net/grasses-growing-role-for-american-cars/

[2] Can Grass Be a New Biofuel? http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2014/01/can-grass-be-a-new-biofuel.html

[3] Biomass versus fossil fuels, solar and wind http://www.viaspace.com/biomass_versus_alternatives.php

[4] Switchgrass Carbon Sequestration http://climate.org/smart-solutions/?p=220

[5] Perennial grasslands enhance biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services in bioenergy landscapes http://www.pnas.org/content/111/4/1652.full?tab=author-info

Crisis Drives Creativity in California’s Search for Water Solutions

As a kid scrambling around in the Vermont woods, I never thought much about water: where it came from, where it went, whether there was enough of it. It was all around me, all the time, and I gave it as little thought as I gave to air. It wasn’t until I moved to the stark desert mountains of eastern California that I suddenly understood the power of water to shape and explain a place. This magic force could carve huge canyons, nurture narrow ribbons of cottonwoods and willows, fill the saline basins of inland seas, and – it seemed to me – dictate the course of politics, culture, and human endeavor.

mono lake 2128

Woods Creek in the Sierra Nevada.

Water in California is both highly visible and desperately scarce. Throughout history, water conflict has played out as the principal drama of the California stage. Farmers have dynamited aqueducts, cities have battled one another through decades of litigation, and governments have imposed restrictions on water consumption that would be unthinkable in the East1, but the problems have only intensified. While drought has plagued the state off and on for all of American memory, the last four years were among the warmest and driest in more than a century of record-keeping2,3. Increasing population pressure and a greater understanding of global climate change have brought water shortage to the tip of every tongue in the state.

Human ingenuity is spurred by crises, and California’s plight has prompted widespread brainstorming. Proposed solutions range from the prosaic (mandatory water rationing, public education about water conservation) to the resourceful (desalinization, improved stormwater retention and treatment) to the bizarre (cloud-seeding, harvesting fog, or reducing evaporation from an open-water reservoir in Los Angeles by filling it with 96 million plastic “shade balls4). While idea generation is rampant, actual implementation lags behind.


Shade ball deployment in August 2015.

The Los Angeles basin is home to almost twenty million people5 and has a long history of redirecting water to suit its needs, from the aqueduct that drains 1,600 cubic feet per second of the Colorado River into the coffers of the Metropolitan Water District6, to the gravity-fed pipeline that appropriates Sierra Nevada snowmelt to fill the taps of city customers7. Today, in the face of the latest drought, Los Angeles is contemplating increased reliance on water that reaches the city in another form: rain.

Not long ago, stormwater was seen only as a threat to infrastructure. Cities were built to funnel rain out of the streets and into the ocean as efficiently as possible. But as reservoirs shrink and snowmelt dwindles, city planners have turned their attention toward salvaging the water that falls out of the sky. In August 2015, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) published a Stormwater Capture Master Plan that proposes to increase the amount of captured stormwater in the basin by as much as 114,000 acre-feet each year8. For reference, a California household’s average water use clocks in at less than one acre-foot per year9. The savings may seem insignificant, but the message is clear: water must be saved however and wherever it can be. There are no more rivers to divert or lakes to drain. Los Angeles must search for and exploit any possible source of increase to its water stores.

The Stormwater Capture Master Plan is ambitious and far-reaching. The plan identifies potential water-saving initiatives from the level of a single house (rebates for rainwater barrels) to that of several-hundred-acre spreading grounds where stormwater is trapped in shallow ponds to encourage its infiltration into underground aquifers. LADWP lays out a twenty-year implementation schedule and promises “immediate, significant, and sustained efforts” in pursuit of these goals8.

Los Angeles River in 2014

Los Angeles River in 2014

Yet there are those who find this approach unsatisfactory. LADWP’s plan is too broad to pick up on every fine-scale opportunity for stormwater retention in the basin, and the plan does little to promote public awareness of and involvement in the process. Peter and Hadley Arnold, architects at the Arid Lands Institute in Burbank, CA, have another idea.

“How do we craft cities and buildings that consciously and visibly mitigate, anticipate, and even celebrate, hydrologic variability?” This is the question the Arnolds pose in their 2013 article “Pivot: Reconceiving Water Scarcity as Design Opportunity10. Their answer: a geospatial model of the San Fernando Valley that blends runoff predictions with detailed surface mapping to identify where – at the scale of individual rooftops, gutters, sidewalks, and curbs – stormwater can be trapped or transported most efficiently. The model traces the likely path of water through the city, pinpoints ideal locations for cisterns or permeable substrates, and even accounts for contaminated areas where stormwater should be channeled off-site and prevented from entering a polluted aquifer. They call the software Hazel, after the wood traditionally used in divining rods. The Arnolds estimate that if the model became reality, it could save the San Fernando Valley 92,000 acre-feet per year of runoff water11. The Valley is about 260 square miles in area12; imagine those savings at the scale of the 4,850 square mile Los Angeles metropolitan area5.

Sample output from the Arnolds' model.

Sample output from the Arnolds’ model.

The Arnolds’ intention is not simply to create a more detailed stormwater retention plan. They envision a paradigm shift. As Hadley put it in a 2014 interview with Architect Magazine, “We first have to break through the invisibility of water systems…the idea that water is just something that shows up in a pipe”13. Instead, water availability and consumption should be transparent public knowledge. Woven into the Arnolds’ design are schemes to prompt a new consciousness of water: water meters as urban art installations, a “smart water grid” that helps private homeowners optimize their water collection, a house that showcases stored water in its walls. They hope for a new generation of planners, builders, and citizens whose eyes are trained to understand the water retention possibilities of a landscape, just as we’re trained to orient our windows toward the sun or build our foundations on level ground13.

For many people in urban Los Angeles, water has always been exactly what it was to me as a child in Vermont: something that comes from who knows where to pour out of the tap, and goes down the drain to who knows where when you’re done with it. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that water, while powerful, is not so mysterious. We have the technology to understand its trajectory in minute detail. The next task is to embrace an approach that capitalizes on that technology. Water can shape not only our creekbeds and canyons, but also the way we design our cities and homes. This new ideology could be a path to extraordinary and unlooked-for solutions.

1. Hanak, E., J. Lund, A. Dinar, B. Gray, R. Howitt, J. Mount, P. Moyle, B. Thompson. 2011. Managing California’s water: from conflict to resolution. Public Policy Institute of California.

2. United States Geological Survey. The California Drought.

3. California Department of Water Resources. 2015. California’s most significant droughts: comparing historical and recent conditions. State of California.

4. Howard, B.C. 2015. Why did L.A. drop 96 million ‘shade balls’ into its water? National Geographic.

5. Wikipedia. Los Angeles metropolitan area.

6. Wikipedia. Colorado River Aqueduct.

7. Wikipedia. Los Angeles Aqueduct.

8. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in collaboration with TreePeople. 2015. Stormwater Capture Master Plan.

9. Water Education Foundation. What’s an acre-foot?

10. Arnold, H. and P. Arnold. 2013. Pivot: reconceiving water scarcity as design opportunity: mapping a more absorbent landscape. Boom: The Journal of California 3:95-101.

11. Tory, S. 2015. Could Los Angeles design its way to water independence? High Country News.

12. Wikipedia. San Fernando Valley.

13. Karaim, R. 2014. Woodbury’s Arid Lands Institute rethinks water in the west with “Divining LA.” Architect Magazine.