Don’t Let LA’s Trees Become Casualties of the Drought

An Urgent Arbor Day Message from TreePeople Founder and President, Andy Lipkis

As I drive through LA this beautiful spring my heart is breaking. In every street, in every block, I see trees in decline.

This is a quiet crisis, and it’s accelerating.


Andy Lipkis spoke at the City’s Save the Drop campaign launch in April.

Earlier this month I sat in a presentation by the Urban Forester of Santa Monica. He said that after four years of drought, our trees’ ability to take up water has atrophied, especially in trees not native to our region. Whereas in past years many trees have been struggling but surviving, it’s now reached the point where they’re dying. We’re in a critical time for saving LA’s trees.

What many of LA’s declining trees need is emergency watering. Taxpayer dollars have paid for millions of trees to be planted in our region over the decades, trees that have been repaying us many times over by providing precious tree canopy. Many of these trees may be lost.

This not only means a loss of this investment. It also means a loss of beauty, wildlife habitat, oxygen, air-cleaning, water-cleaning, carbon-absorbing, health-providing services to Angelenos. But even more is at stake: this loss of trees could threaten our very lives.


I learned this vividly on a recent tour of Australia, a country that has seen record-breaking heat in recent years due to climate change. There, in neighborhoods that were lacking in trees, people were exceptionally vulnerable to the heat. During extreme heat events, people in these unshaded “heat islands” died. (According to the Centers for Disease Control, excessive heat is a leading cause of preventable, weather-related deaths, particularly among the elderly.)

Lake View Terrace Tree Care - 1/17/15

The Australians found that dense tree canopy can save lives and even in their own drought have prioritized the planting and care of trees.

So, in LA’s drought emergency, what does this mean for us?

It means that we while we reduce water for non-essential uses, we must use it to keep our city’s trees alive.

As TreePeople gears up for a major effort to save LA’s trees, tapping the power and caring of Angelenos of all ages and backgrounds as well as influencing government policy, you can take action today.

How to Keep Trees Alive During the Drought

How to Keep Trees Alive During the Drought

  1. Learn to water trees properly during the drought.
  2. Diminish water use in other parts of your landscape to use on your trees – and don’t stop watering your trees if you stop watering your lawn: your trees have been depending on that water. And the good news is that they don’t need that much in comparison with thirsty lawns. Check out TreePeople’s resources on removing your turf and planting with native plants and how to plant the right tree in the right place.
  3. Prioritize your water uses. Not only can we conserve even more than we already are doing, we can re-use water when we can. Even if you can’t use grey water,  you might be able to keep a bucket in your shower and capture the warm-up water to use on your trees. If you have a rain barrel, you can use it to store captured water from other uses.
  4. Apply mulch. Using a thick layer of shredded tree trimmings helps hold soil moisture in and make the difference between life and death for trees. See our easy “how to” guide.Sylmar Recreation Center - Drought Response Tree Care
  5. Identify trees in public spaces that need to be protected and saved. Look beyond your own yard into your community forest. When you look at the tops of trees and see bare stems and branches, that could indicate drought-related distress. Commit to adopting public trees to keep alive during the hot summer months with occasional waterings. Find a hose nearby and ask the owner permission to use the water on the tree. Or bring your own bucket.
  6. Use TreeMapLA to map the trees you are taking care of, and alert others to trees that need help using the alert feature. This powerful new tool can help us keep track of, value, and care for LA’s urban forest.
  7. Call your city government office and register your concern about dying public trees and ask for this expenditure to be prioritized. The city of Santa Barbara replicated TreePeople’s model of using irricades (a tree-saving innovation we brought back from Australia).  This is something your city could do as well to provide recycled water to save mature and heritage trees.
  8. Support TreePeople. TreePeople is working on all fronts to bolster LA’s ability to respond to this tree emergency. As we lobby for resources from all levels of government, we are gearing up for a major public campaign to give people the information and tools to save trees on a massive scale.

Don’t let LA’s trees become casualties of this drought. Let’s get to work to keep LA’s trees alive.

Topanga Creek Restoration


Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age 18 and continues to serve as its President. Andy has spearheaded an approach using trees and forest-inspired technologies to make cities sustainable while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, and climate change. Called “Functioning Community Forests,” it is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.


  1. Wilde1D   •  

    I think that barrels that can be carried on ones’ back and placed next to the tree that drips water at the base of the tree would be most effective. After a few hours or days you pick up the barrel and move to the next tree you are saving.

  2. chahbani bellachheb   •  

    “We can’t control the droughts and floods. But we can respond with foresight to the crises it delivers”. In this direction, we have worked during 25 years of applied research, in semi arid and arid regions of Tunisia (which have similar climate of California and western states of USA), to find solutions for droughts mitigation and climate change adaptation.
    We have distinguished the seasonal drought and the multi annual drought. The first type
    is a short duration drought: low or very low rain during the autumn, or the winter or the spring. This will of course reduce the water availability in the soil of the rain fed crops (trees or cereals and others).
    For the irrigated crops from small medium and big reservoirs, the impact is not dramatic. The second type is the long duration drought: 2 till 3 successive years. The impact is dramatic and catastrophic for both rain fed and irrigated crops. In rain fed crops there is no crop because no water in the soil: for
    cereals and similar farmers do not cultivate; for trees because of water scarcity in the soil., the trees will slowly agonize. If the drought is long (2 or 3 years) the trees die and the aerial and underground (roots) biomass dry out. This situation is what Californian farmers experienced during 2012/2013 and 2014.
    To avoid the negative impacts of the catastrophic droughts in rain fed and irrigated crops, we conceived solutions which take in account the 2 opposite situations of the climate change : year with severe and long duration droughts and years with a huge of rains causing catastrophic floods. We created 2 new concepts and we invented 2 technologies. Both concepts and technologies are real solutions for drought mitigation. The 2 technologies are: “the buried diffuser” and the “draining floater”.
    The Buried Diffuser is can be used for regular irrigation of trees (fruit trees, forest trees, ornamental trees) and shrubs, vegetables in fields and in green houses and plants in containers, pots or boxes. In regular irrigation the buried diffuser allows to use 50% less water, energy, fertilisers, than drip irrigation, to get the same yield. In addition to the regular irrigation, The Buried Diffuser can also be used for the “anticipated irrigation” and “water injection” in the deep soil layers.
    For the “anticipated irrigation”, Instead of irrigation during the hot or the dry season, the irrigation using Buried Diffusers is done during the autumn and winter or during the rainy season. The amount of water of the «Anticipated Irrigation» should cover the total need of the crop during the hot or dry season (spring and summer). This water amount is stored in the deep soil layers will be used by the deep or sub-surface roots systems of the crops.
    The “water injection” using Buried Diffusers in the deep soil layers is useful especially for trees crops. The injected water comes from: dams, rivers, and springs. The amount of the injected water could cover the need of the trees for several years (2 to 3 years) when the soil below 50 cm is thick (1 meter or more) and contains minimum 10% clay. This injected water is conserved (stored) in the deep soil layers (50 cm below the soil surface) and used later by the deep root systems of the trees during a short or a long drought period: six months till 3 years. During the drought, the trees produce normally using the injected and stored water. Thus for one wet year and one very wet year and for a hill reservoir, with a drainage basin of ​​700 hectares and a storage capacity of 300000 cubic meters, these resources that might be injected into the deeper layers of soil are estimated to 1550000 meters. This volume injected by diffusers would keep in good production conditions 34 444 adult olive trees for three years. Each tree receives 15 cubic meters per

    The draining floater allows to «pump» » and to distribute the water using the gravity. It uses the siphon principle. To begin the pumping and the distribution of the water using the gravity, we have to fill the pipes with water then we open the end tap of the system to initiate the water flowing by gravity inducing the water pumping and distribution continuously without any intervention. The “Water flowing regulation tap” could be closed and opened at any time without priming the siphon.

    Our company is still negotiating with US partner to introduce these technologies and concepts in USA. For more details about the buried diffuser, the draining floater, the anticipated irrigation and the water injection, visit our website: . You can also write to :

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