Our Favorite Things: The Crew’s Passion Projects

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Our Favorite Things: The Crew’s Passion Projects

The Longest Straw could never have been possible if our crew hadn’t been utterly devoted to making the movie happen.  After all, the production process was grueling, time-consuming, and expensive.  Nobody finishes a documentary unless they’re passionate about getting movies made!

And passionate our entire crew was.  So passionate, in fact, that many members of our production crew have made other documentaries and creative projects outside of The Longest Straw.

Samantha Bode, the director, apparently didn’t get her fill of filming epic journeys after her nearly 400 mile hike up the Longest Straw, because she’s now part of Yukon Calling.  This summer, she’s canoeing the length of the Yukon River – and you’ll see a video eventually, but not until after ours is released!

Producer Angela Jorgensen has written several web videos, the most recent of which include four episodes for the conspiracy-themed animated comedy web series The Lizardmen

Cameraman Ian Midgley was no stranger to documentary production when he joined the crew at The Longest Straw, especially since he’s shot, directed, and produced a documentary all his own called Reversing the Mississippi.  Ian explores alternate lifestyles with a distinctly American flavor in this PBS-airing movie.

We also had a camera woman for many of our shoots, Angela Wood, who shot the video series 2 Guys Named Ben.  The series follows, well, two guys named Ben who travel and explore the Bluegrass scene – what is it about our crew and travelogues?

We promise – The Longest Straw will be released very soon.  But if you’re feeling impatient in the meanwhile, check out the amazing work the rest of our crew has done.

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Eating Green When Eating Out

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Eating Green When Eating Out

This is restaurant season.  When I’ve got the air conditioner cranked, the last thing I want to do is heat the house back up again by turning on the oven.  Add the fact that I’m outside more, taking more weekend trips, and the reality of eating at restaurants is omnipresent in summer.

We’ve covered before that quite a few restaurants can be absolutely terrible in terms of the eco-impact of their menu items.  But we’re all going to go out to eat every now and then.  How can we go green when we’re out?

If you’re staying relatively local – say, still in the state of California, plenty of restaurants have already accommodated for our green leanings.  What if you’re travelling outside California, though?

Several restaurant chains have already committed to making sustainable choices regardless of geography.  Familiar favorites like In-N-Out, Starbucks, Souplantation, and Chipotle will provide you with tasty food while keeping their footprint as small as possible.

If chains aren’t your thing and you’re looking to expand your horizons when you go out, check for LEED certification on the building.   Another international organization that can serve as a guide both in the USA and abroad is the Sustainable Restaurant Group, which includes a list of member restaurants on their website.

Other signs that your favorite restaurant is eco-conscious?  They won’t serve water until you request it, they’ll use cloth napkins, and the bathrooms have hands-free dryers. 

Like most sustainable practices, you can make the best choices if you’re willing to do a bit of research in advance.  Whether it means keeping a list of go-to places or planning your stops during a trip, the Internet is full of guides to help you identify restaurants that are serving green food while conserving.

And if that seems like too much work for you, just memorize this list of seven green fast-food items.

If you are what you eat, then be water-wise with your restaurant choices.

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Another Scorcher

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Another Scorcher

I used to make the same joke over and over again after I moved to Los Angeles: “I’m from Iowa, and we have this weird thing called seasons…”

Given that it’s always sunny in Los Angeles, that the city almost never sees snow and rarely receives rain, one might naturally assume that the City of Angels exists in a perpetual state of summer.  That presumption would be wrong.  Based on my own experiences of living in the city for almost a decade, I can safely say that LA still has four seasons, but those seasons are non-traditional.  The seasons are:

·         The rainy season

·         The sunny season

·         The oh-God-why-is-it-so-hot season

·         The slightly cooler than the rest of the year season

Bad news for Angelenos: August marks the start of oh-God-why-is-it-so-hot.

Are you still reading?  Your computer hasn’t melted yet?  That’s good, because there’s more bad news.  Bad enough to live with triple-digit weather that assaults you the moment you step outdoors, but for the past several years, LA has consistently set record-high temperatures

Sure, you may think.  But it’s a dry heat.  I’ll admit, I wouldn’t trade the humidity I grew up with for a nice liquid-less dew content, but humidity or not, 111 degree days are no good no matter what the other conditions are.

And it looks like things will only get worse.  While some may still try to deny the existence of climate change, global warming is no longer a hypothetical up for debate.  It’s here.  Temperatures have steadily climbed, the California coast line has already begun to erode, and while the drought may technically be over, most agree that the next one may be around the corner.

So stay cool.  Drink plenty of liquids, keep to the shade, and stay safe.  That’s not just temporary advice for the occasional 113 degree day – it’s soon going to be a part of everyone’s lifestyle year-round.

On the upside, our planet isn’t quite yet doomed.  But the time is past for debating.  Conserve today.  Tomorrow will be too late.

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How to Talk About Our Planet

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How to Talk About Our Planet

If you follow politics, or the news, than you know that the last few months have held blow after blow for the climate.  From pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement to encouraging coal while ending green energy plans to denying human-caused climate change, our country’s leaders seem outright hostile to the concept of living sustainably.

We can still make conservation-wise decisions at home, of course.  Keeping the lights off and using rain barrels aren’t illegal, after all.  But when our personal sustainable choices are offset by unregulated industry and wasteful governments, a truly sustainable lifestyle means speaking up for the earth’s needs.  Maybe you don’t see yourself as an activist.  Maybe you don’t know what to do.  Well, here’s our guide to showing our legislators that you want a more sustainable environmental policy.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to reach your representative is to call him or her.  You can look up the contact information for whomever represents you based on your zip code online, or call Congress directly at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected directly with your representative.  You can sign up online for various groups that will provide you with scripts for different issues, and be sure to check out these tips from a Congressional staffer.

Where does the term “representative” come from anyway?  Well, our leaders are meant to represent all our constituents, and by encouraging more people to voice their concerns, we can apply greater pressure on our representatives.  Tweet about the issues you care about.  Post it on Facebook.  Be that person at a party who brings up politics. 

Are we being melodramatic ?  It’s possible, but people far more knowledgeable than us have already said that the effects of climate change may have already passed a threshold where they are irreversible.  We’re already seeing major changes in Florida and along the California coastline.    And droughts that marked our last five years have the potential to become the new norm

Sound good?  I don’t think so, either.  So let’s all stand up and speak for our planet before it’s too late.

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Summer in Los Angeles

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Summer in Los Angeles

I grew up in Iowa, where summer weather pretty consistently began in late May or early June and persisted until mid-September.  The worst heat and humidity would begin right as summer ended, as my favorite shows wrapped up their seasons, and just when local clothing stores would begin putting out their swimwear and short shorts.

Los Angeles seems to be on its own clock.  The famously sunny city doesn’t have a winter to speak of, and barely has a spring or fall.  It would seem, if it’s summer all-year-round, that the concept of seasons would become irrelevant in LA.  Then, beginning in late August, you get that first 120-degree day…

Summer seems to start in this city right when it’s wrapping up in the rest of the country.  And no matter how much you may love the sun’s warm rays, nobody wants to risk the hyperthermia that threatens when the air rises into three-digit temperatures.

So while our “summer” months have seemed mild thus far, the real threat of the LA summer is just arriving.  For me, at least, the looming, pummeling heat brings with it a sense of dread.  Life in Los Angeles is like the inverse of the Game of Thrones universe.  Summer is coming, and that threat ought to chill you to your core, because that chill will be the only heat relief you’ll get for a while.

Worst of all, summer in Los Angeles can be anathema to conservation efforts.  With no hint of rainfall, sprinklers will activate on a regular basis.  Air conditioners will run through the hottest spikes of mid-day.  Water usage goes up

That’s why now is the time to prepare.  Invest in a nice, sturdy basin big enough to stand in and build the habit of collecting your shower water and re-using it in your garden.  Install a greywater system.  Put a brick in your toilet tank. 

Summer is coming.  Don’t leave your city parched.

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Our Favorite Things: Parks Along the Aqueduct

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Our Favorite Things: Parks Along the Aqueduct

Years ago in the stone ages, before Sam and her crew took their 338 mile hike up the aqueduct, we found ourselves faced with a conundrum.  We wanted our journey to be a backpacking journey, with camping and tents and hiking trails.  But as the aqueduct wound through private lands, where could we camp?

As it turns out, we didn’t need to worry at all.  The aqueduct passes through numerous state and federal parks and forests, meaning the journey rarely left Sam without a place to sleep.  In fact, the path is roughly parallel to the Pacific Crest Trail, and Sam’s camping worries evaporated as she walked a path dotted with BLM land and even several formal camp sites.

Let’s start with an easy one: Yosemite National Park.  Mono Lake sits just outside the sleepy town of Lee Vining, which in turn marks the turnoff for the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.  If you’re taking the 395 in to see one of California’s most beautiful sites that Teddy Roosevelt once described as a "solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hands of man,” you can look to the right as you drive as spot Mono Lake. 

Ever heard of Sequoia National Park or Sequoia National Forest?  Just south of Yosemite, these naturally protected spaces are known for their towering redwoods, including the world’s largest tree by volume.    While the aqueduct doesn’t actually pass through the Sequoia National Park or Forest, it runs along their eastern borders.

If you’re an avid camper, you probably already know that both Yosemite and Sequoia are pretty far north, and a visit to these parks means a several-hours-long road trip.  Ever wish there were a forest closer to Los Angeles that just for good measure featured the LA Aqueduct?  Lucky for you, there is!  Sam spent the better part of her first week on-trail passing through the Angeles National Forest, a wilderness area so close, you can actually walk to it from within Santa Clarita city limits!  (As for whether you’d want to make that walk, well, that’s up to you.)

One of the greatest benefits to living in Southern California is our abundance of state and national forests and parks, meaning we’re never at a loss for camping destinations.  Naturally it makes sense that this blend of urban and wilderness would express itself through our water importation system as well.  So next time you have glass of cool, refreshing tap water, remember that you’re partaking of a wild area’s ecosystem.

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Having An Explosive Independence Day

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Having An Explosive Independence Day

There is one (and only one) tradition that is inherently synonymous with Independence Day.  Sure, there may be barbecues, re-enactments, and beach trips, but that’s not really what leaps to mind when you think of the Fourth of July, is it?  No, it’s the fireworks.

Nothing lights up a balmy summer night quite like a controlled explosive whether it’s a hand-held sparkler or a full-on professional light show.  However, as a child, I always felt a sense of unease after a grand fireworks spectacle, and it wasn’t only because of the loud noise and bright lights.  After the sound and the fury has concluded, there’s always a haze that lingers in the air.  So what is the ecological impact of fireworks?

As it turns out, I’m not the only one concerned about that smoke that remains after the fireworks go off.  While the air pollution from fireworks constitutes only about 0.01% of the world’s air pollution, actually – holy cow.  Given that fireworks are far from an every-day occurrence, 0.01% is kind of a big deal.

Of course, we’re not an air pollution blog, we’re a water conservation blog, and the news is bad on that front, too.  After all that pollution leaves the air, it has to drift somewhere.  Sometimes, pollutants known as perchlorate can drift into open water, but more often, they settle into the land and then get washed into waterways with rain storms.

Even the manufacture of fireworks can leave something to be desired.  Fireworks’s main active ingredient is gunpowder, which in turn is made of sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter.  All of these are naturally occurring elements, but the manufacturing process that combines these minerals into fireworks leaves something to be desired

We all get a little patriotic thrill when we see that rocket’s red glare, but this Independence Day, spare a thought for the other great group you’re a member of- humanity – and make some water-wise decisions.

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Beautiful Inside and Out: How to Practice Water-Wise Skin-Care

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Beautiful Inside and Out: How to Practice Water-Wise Skin-Care

I’ve had severe eczema ever since I was a baby.  After my parents dragged me to countless dermatologists, numerous experts assured them that while I would suffer as a young child, by the time I was an adult I’d have grown out of it.  Well, here I am, as an adult, and I still must live with my skin condition.

Striking a balance between a medical need to moisturize and a desire to be ecologically sound can be difficult.  The upside is that most heavily processed items are both bad for you and bad for the planet, so eliminating the majority of cleansers, make-up, and treatments from your daily routine will make for a double-win.

So what are some natural products that sooth your skin without scarring the earth?

I recently discovered the joys of coconut oil.  It’s naturally packed with vitamins that are easily absorbable through your skin, but what is the ecological impact?  Coconut oil is just what it says on the tin, made from coconut husks  and only needs 538 gallons of water to produce. 

Other natural oils include avocado oil and cocoa butter.  Avocados are very virtual water friendly, needing about 43 gallons per fruit but coming in much more sustainable when imported from their native environment, Mexico.  Coco butter, meanwhile, comes from the same plant that produces chocolate: a high virtual water crop.    Your best bet is to stay away from that product.

There’s more to skin-care than applying oil, however.  Low virtual-footprint products like the aforementioned coconut oil and honey (no virtual water footprint) can replace soaps and make-up removers to help you keep your face healthy and clean.  Just stay away from water-guzzling olive oil

Do you feel like you can’t leave home without makeup?  We’ve got you covered there, too.

Whether you have a clinical condition or you just want to cultivate your naturally healthy glow, caring for your skin and being water-wise don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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The Planet Doesn’t Get a Vacation

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The Planet Doesn’t Get a Vacation

It’s about that time again: the sun is shining, the beach beckons, and school’s out.  That must mean it’s time to plan your family vacation!

Vacationing can be… let’s say resource intensive.  There’s the money you spend on gas and hotel stays and souvenirs.  There’s the diet that falls by the wayside when you’re eating out for every meal – and the extra pounds you can expect to put on.  And let’s not ignore that travelling often means drinking out of plastic bottles, burning fuel, and engaging in other behaviors that will break our conservation trends we follow the rest of the year.

The alternative?  Do a little advance planning to keep your vacation water-wise.

For example, let’s tackle the whole bottled-water thing.  If you’re road-tripping, you don’t always have ready access to a tap or a water faucet, which usually means you have to rely on bottled drinks to keep yourself hydrated.  That said, there’s nothing preventing you from bringing a re-usable bottle from home and re-filling with tap water or fountain drinks, saving you about half a liter per refill. 

Haven’t selected a destination yet?  Some green-thinking cities will help you easily conserve without adding one more worry to your down-time.  If your destination isn’t on this list, look for hotels that will allow you to re-use towels between washes.

Then there’s what you do during your trip.  Most major cities have extensive public transit systems that will get you to their main tourist destinations – not only do you save on gas, but you also avoid the hassle of navigating and parking in an unfamiliar town.  More and more destinations also offer municipal bike rentals.  And let’s not forget the simple pleasures of a nice, long walk.

Finally, let’s talk your travel plans.  Cruise ships might sound like a lot of fun, but their carbon footprint is virtually unregulated when they’re in international waters.  Better just stick to road trips and flights.

Finally, the particularly eco-conscious traveler might want to consider ecotourism.  It may not be the same as sipping a tropical drink in a four-star resort, but studies show that altruism leads to more long-term positive feelings, meaning a week spent cultivating native plants in a distant forest may benefit you more than a more traditional rest & relaxation retreat anyway.

How do you like to live green on vacation?

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How The Department of Fish & Game Saved the Mono Basin

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How The Department of Fish & Game Saved the Mono Basin

When you turn on the tap, water comes out.  Can’t explain that.

Well, actually, we can.  Los Angeles imports its water from a variety of sources, one of which is the Los Angeles Aqueduct.  This aqueduct carries with it so much history, so much political unrest, and such wide-reaching ecological impacts that we could never hope to cover all of its nuances in a single blog post.  What we can, do, however, is make a feature-length documentary exploring many of those issues – The Longest Straw comes out this fall!

Even with ninety minutes of storytelling, however, we still can’t delve into all the issues there are to explore.  That’s why this week’s post conveys a bit of history that didn’t quite make it into our final cut.  Think of it as a text-only deleted scene.

First: the basics.  The Los Angeles Aqueduct originally ran from LA to the Owens River, but as the city expanded, it built two extensions, one of which stretched all the way to the Mono Basin.  As the aqueduct diverted water from the clear, drinkable freshwater streams of the region, the terminal lake they once fed began to dry up. 

Cue decades of lawsuits and negotiations as the Mono Lake Committee and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tried to strike a balance between a metropolis’s need for drinking water and a unique ecosystem’s need for pristine snowmelt.

1984 was an unusually wet year for the state of California, a year that brought amble flooding with it.  As the usually dry-from-diversions streams of the Mono Basin refilled, a few enterprising fishers stocked game fish in the local creeks.

When the rain stopped, the Department of Fish & Game found they had something in common with the Mono Lake Committee: a desire to save the waterways.  In their case, the law stated that sport fishing waterways had to be maintained so that they were healthy for the fish.

Cue a joint effort to require the Department of Water and Power to maintain the streams of the Mono Basin.  These creeks needed minimal water flow, and with that water came plant and animal life and the hard work of restoration was begun.

When you think of preserving a local ecosystem, is your first thought “let’s check legislation on sports that were only possible because of fluke weather events?”  Probably not.  But that’s the real beauty of the LA Aqueduct: its history is riddled with chance alliances and symbiotic relationships.  Water is a right to everyone, and you never know who will join you to preserve it.

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Our Favorite Things: Cities Taking Charge

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Our Favorite Things: Cities Taking Charge

We’re all in this together.  Our blog tends to focus on personal, individual steps we can all take to save water, and that’s because it’s individuals who read us.  As private citizens, each of us plays a role in creating and impacting our world and our environment and it’s good to acknowledge our responsibility.

But sometimes, a few individuals acting independently can’t make enough of an impact to really change a major problem.  That’s where our governments come in, and say what you will about the dangers of bureaucracy, here are some municipalities that are really getting it right when it comes to water management.

San Francisco has been turning heads with their just-barely-safe-for-work ad campaign that makes water conservation sexy.  At the end of the day, it’s up to individuals to decide when (and whether) to turn off the tap, but this PR move might just make saving water the sort of thing people want to do.

We’ve long advocated for turning to more sustainable, local water sources like greywater and wastewater reclamation, and Tempe, Arizona shows how a desert city can not just survive, but thrive with the water resources available to it.

Texas may not be the first place you think of when you think of conservation, but they’re getting down and dirty with water reclamation – and we do mean dirty.  Not only is Houston recycling waste water, but they’re recycling wastewater from another city – Dallas, which sits upstream. 

Finally, we’ll wrap this post up with a little pat on our own shoulders.  Los Angeles may not be perfect, but it’s weathered its fair share of droughts, due in no small part to our rebates on low-flow fixtures, irrigation restrictions, and other efforts to save the drop.    LA loves its water, and not just because we’re close to the beach – we all have come to recognize that without water, there is no life.

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Grow Your Garden with Virtual Water In Mind

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Grow Your Garden with Virtual Water In Mind

You wouldn’t believe it, given how hot it’s been lately, but you’re not too late to plant for a harvest this year.  A few well-chosen seeds now will mean fresh, local, pesticide-free produce on your table come early autumn.

Of course, if there’s one takeaway from California’s water woes of the past few years, it’s that we need to be forward-thinking with our water use, lest another multi-year drought hit us again (and trust me, one will.)  So when it comes to selecting what to plant in your garden, there’s more to consider than just what makes your mouth water.

For a truly eco-friendly garden, look to natives.  Their benefit is self-evident: these plants evolved in southern California’s climate, so of course they’re well adapted to Los Angeles weather.  Onions, celery, fennel, and lettuce are all LA natives in case you want to make a salad.  Even some plants that typically get dismissed as weeds are edible and possibly already growing in your yard. 

Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself only to California natives to have a virtual water friendly garden.  Other plants have evolved to do well with limited watering, such as tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and peppers. 

Gardens are about more than just food.  Whether you have a simple window box or a whole terraformed landscape in your yard, you can feel confident that you’re not contributing to water shortages when you plant poppies, sweet peas, and sage

One thing is clear: sunny Los Angeles with its rarely cloudy days may seem ideal in travel advertisements, and plenty of plants enjoy the blue skies, too.  So enjoy the yields of your hard work, and maybe send a tomato my way once it’s ripe.

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Trash Your Trash: Eliminate Waste to Save on Water

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Trash Your Trash: Eliminate Waste to Save on Water

If you’ve learned any eco-lessons at all, whether it be from TV, school, blogs, or friends, you know that eliminating your waste as much as possible is like Going Green 101.  When I was a kid, I learned all about our overflowing landfills, which were packed with plastics and Styrofoam and other unnatural items that would take thousands of years to deteriorate.  Eliminating trash was important.

While we at the Drought Diaries love all forms of going green, we’re primarily a water-themed blog, not a landfill-themed blog.  So why should we weigh in on saving trash?  It’s simple: as unnatural garbage breaks down, their chemical components leach into the soil and pollute waterways.  When you make less garbage, you save water in the long-run.

Another link between eliminating waste and saving water comes in the form of simply consuming less.  We’ve discussed virtual water before, and one key piece of information when it comes to virtual water consumption is that not only is water contained in the products we use, it’s also contained in what we don’t use – packaging, damaged or spoiled produce, etc.  If we limit our purchases to only what we need, buy loose items and reuse our containers and shopping bags, we can reduce about one third of our total waste.  In fact, when California banned plastic bags a few years ago, they saw a very quick reduction in the amount of waste on their beaches. 

Another way to save waste to save water is to recycle and compost rather than throw things away.  We’ve all heard the benefits of recycling, but one major downside is that the recycling process is, itself, water-intensive.  The plastic recycling process uses water as a coolant.     Does this mean you shouldn’t recycle?  No.  But eliminating our consumption of products that need to be recycled can be a big benefit.

You might be amazed at what you can compost.  FecesStyrofoam.  Coffee grounds.  Even vacuum bags and packing tape.  The biggest way composting is superior to recycling is that it doesn’t have a virtual water footprint at all, plus you benefit by introducing nutrients into your garden and yard.

Finally, if you end up with a product that you don’t need, that cannot be recycled or composted, and that would be harmful to throw away, consider re-using instead.  If you have something that you don’t use but someone else might find useful, like old clothes, tools from an abandoned hobby, or toys that your children have outgrown, give them to a friend or to charity.  For the truly useless detritus of your life, like items that are irreparably stained, broken, or outdated, turn to crafts.  Blogs and Pinterest are your friends.

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Garbage is a state of mind.  By that I mean, almost everything has a use besides decomposing in a landfill.  With a little creative thinking, you can save water by wasting less.

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Sitting on the Front Porch, Drinking Lemonade

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Sitting on the Front Porch, Drinking Lemonade

Every time I go to a restaurant and my waiter or waitress asks what I’d like to drink, I always ask for water.  This isn’t because I’m particularly frugal, or because I’m conscious of the calories in soda (if you saw the way I eat, you’d never suspect that.)  It’s just that I don’t particularly care for the taste of carbonated drinks.

However, something special happens right around this time of year.  Maybe it’s because the heat turns up on my long walks and I need an extra sugar boost.  Maybe it’s because fresh fruit is in season and my body’s internal clock craves it.  Maybe it’s just because there’s something special about summer that’s synonymous with juice and lemonade.  This is the time of year that’s meant for lounging in a lawn chair, smelling the grass, listening to birds, and sipping something sweet and tart and fruity.

Your standard lemonade recipe has three ingredients: sugar, water, and lemons.  What proportion of which ingredient will vary depending on your tastes, but based on the top result when I googled “Lemonade recipe,” let’s assume a pitcher of lemonade has an average of 8 cups of water, 1.75 cups sugar, and 1.5 cups lemon juice.  The sugar has a virtual water footprint of 1,782 liters per kilogram of sugar and citrusy fruits like lemons require about 80 liters per kilogram.  Converting into cups for this recipe, a pitcher of lemonade will use about 639.5 liters of water for the sugar and 29.25 liters for the lemon juice.  Add the 1.9 liters of water (8 cups) and a pitcher of lemonade needs 670.65 liters of virtual water.  Not bad.  Not great, but not bad.

But hold up – I live in Los Angeles, and if there’s one thing we love, it’s fancy lemonades.  Want to add a few sprigs of mint so you have mint lemonade?  Add a quarter liter of virtual water.    Dice some strawberries for strawberry lemonade?  That’s one liter for every 20 strawberries

There is, however, another option.  If you frequent a lot of Mexican restaurants, you’ve probably heard of Agua Fresca, which is sort of the more intense form of fruit-infused water.    Or, another way of looking at it: agua fresca is lemonade with the lemons swapped out for hibiscus, strawberry, mango, or whatever your favorite fruit might be.  You can pick a favorite fruit based on its virtual water impact (if you can harvest directly from a fruit tree in your yard, even better) and make a refreshing summer drink that won’t leave the earth parched, too.

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Boomin’ and Bloomin’

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Boomin’ and Bloomin’

When I grew up, my mother used to say “April showers bring May flowers.”  Well, May is here, and boy howdy do we have some beautiful flowers.

The name may be ominous, but Death Valley is expected to have a solid wildflower bloom this year.  On the upside, in the modern era of air-conditioned cars and regularly-spaced convenience stores selling drinks, Death Valley isn’t likely to bring you death anymore.  Even better, you can reach Death Valley off the 395, meaning you could plan a partial LA Aqueduct road trip on your way to check out the blooms.

The Poppy Reserve in Antelope Valley is a popular destination for wildflower enthusiasts.  Rolling hills covered in orange and yellow blooms will beckon when you exit your car – just beware of the rattlesnakes!

I wish I’d known about the wildflower bloom going on in Point Mugu Park when I headed up there for a hike a few weeks ago!  If you can’t choose whether you prefer the mountains or the beach, Point Mugu is the place for you, combining both those features with the glory of a million blooming flowers – can it get any better than that?

If schlepping your way far outside the city limits isn’t your idea of a good time, take the comparatively short trip down to the Santa Monica Mountains while their flowers are still thriving.  Who says you have to leave a city to get in touch with nature?

These days, I feel like I can’t open up Facebook without being greeted with hundreds of pictures of hundreds of flowers (not that I’m complaining).  So let’s make the most of a long-awaited rainy spring and enjoy these flowers while they’re here.

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Our Favorite Things: LA-Area Hikes

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Our Favorite Things: LA-Area Hikes

Summer is here, and that means it’s time to get outside. 

One of my favorite qualities about Los Angeles is that its urban environment is counterbalanced by the natural parks right within our city’s limits.  An avid outdoorsy-type can get away every weekend – sometimes without even hopping in the car.  So this week, we’re going to profile hiking destinations you can reach that are an hour’s drive from LA or less.

Griffith Park may be synonymous with “hiking” for Angelinos.  It’s host to a carousel, an observatory, and an awesome abandoned zoo that you can explore.  Even the iconic Hollywood Sign is in Griffith Park, not to mention the dozens of other trails criss-crossing through our city’s urban park.

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, might we recommend Murphy’s Ranch? This hike-able path past crumbling abandoned machine sheds and barns has a backstory straight out of a B-grade horror movie: during World War II, Nazi sympathizers built a base camp in the woods.  Shortly after Pearl Harbor when they were arrested and their encampment was left to crumble.  Seriously, can you think of any other trail with a similar story?

At the other end of the political spectrum, get out to Malibu for the Solstice Canyon Hike.    The trail ends with an epically beautiful waterfall right next to the ruins of a historical house called the Tropical Terrace.  The architect who designed the house was named Paul Williams, one of the earliest Black architects who designed this beautiful ranch home in the early 1950s.  While the house burned down in a wildfire, the foundation remains, hinting at the gorgeous home that once sat at the bottom of the canyon.

Lest you think all of LA’s best hikes are about ruins, consider Eaton Canyon Falls.    One major draw of this hike is that the trailhead is within walking distance of a Gold Line stop, meaning you don’t need access to a car to get on this hike.  Say what you will about Los Angeles car culture, it’s pretty hard to get around without one, so this hike is a rare treat for the hiker who doesn’t like to drive.

Think this post covers all the best hikes in Los Angeles?  Think again!  There are way more – share which ones you think we missed in the comments.

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Getting Lucky

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Getting Lucky

We could all use a bit of luck in our lives.  Whether it’s watching our favorite sports team go into playoffs, crossing our fingers that our boss thinks well of us when it’s time for our next performance review, or watching a news report about the latest storm or earthquake and hoping it misses our home and those of our loved ones, there are plenty of things in this life we have limited control over, and hoping for good luck is the best we can do to better our circumstances.

Some people take the whole luck thing an extra step beyond just hoping, however.  Some people actually carry lucky charms, hoping that possessing some item imbued with the idea of luck will bring them fortune in their lives.  Today, I’ll look at some good luck charms and the virtual water footprint associated with them.

Nothing says “luck” quite like a four-leaf clover.  While clover leaves naturally have three leaves, an occasional mutation will produce an aberrant extra leaf.  This unlikely mutation is infrequent enough to be considered a sign of good luck.  How unlikely?  About 1 in 10,000 clovers have four leaves.  In terms of virtual water, clover uses even more water than grass.  Assuming their footprints are comparable, producing a single four-leaf clover (and the accompanying 9,999 normal clovers) would take 9 liters of water, which is pretty water-wise, all-told.  Those four-leaf clovers may actually be lucky!

How about those “lucky rabbit’s paws” we often see attached to keychains at mall kiosks or gas station check-out lines.  Besides the fact that it must be a very unlucky rabbit indeed to lose its feet, what do these products have to do with water usage?  Good news for the rabbit: most “rabbit’s feet” are artificial, made of latex and fake fur.  Specifically, they’re made of about an ounce-and-a-half of latex, which is a petrochemical.  Without knowing the exact manufacturing process for the rabbit’s foot and assuming the footprint is similar to that of plastic, we’re looking at about two gallons of water, or 7 and a half liters just for the filling in the rabbit’s foot.

It’s not only Western culture that has its traditions related to luck.  In Chinese and Vietnamese culture, New Years is celebrated with the exchange of red envelopes containing small bills.  The money isn’t the real key to the tradition, though: it’s the luck the recipient gains from the envelope itself.  Different red envelopes come in all sizes and shapes, but for each sheet of paper used, you’re looking at a footprint of three gallons for an equivalent-sized envelope.   And that’s before you even look at the red dye.

When I think luck, there’s usually a pot of gold and a rainbow involved.  The good news about rainbows is that they can be enjoyed by all without cost to anyone.  These bows are actually a reflection from water droplets still in the atmosphere after a rainfall, so maybe we should consider every storm a good luck symbol.

Of course, no discussion of lucky charms is complete without a discussion of, well, Lucky Charms.  Calculating the virtual water footprint of a product like this can be tricky, because we don’t know the exact ingredients or ratios they’re added to the final product.  Each individual cereal will vary, as well as variances from factory to factory making the same cereal.  If we look just at the grains used as the building blocks for cereal, however, we can assume 1,222 liters of water per kilogram of grain. An average 100 gram bowl of cereal would use 122 liters of water before processing.  We recommend you stick with the real rainbows and the clovers.

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Women of Color Who Rock the Sciences – And Why We Love Them

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Women of Color Who Rock the Sciences – And Why We Love Them

A little while back, we decided to take a stand for a demographic we felt was underrepresented: female ecologists.  This was one of my favorite blog posts I wrote in recent memory, in part because I knew so little about these awesome female scientists, so it was a learning opportunity for me as a writer as well as for (hopefully) my readers.

However, after I posted, I realized that the women I’d opted to honor were a bit… well, monochromatic.  So this week, the time has come to right that wrong by dedicating a post entirely to women of color who are taking big steps to help save our planet.

You may have never heard of MaVynee Oshun Betsch, but if you’ve visited the beach lately, you’ve witnessed the impact of her work.  A real-life Robin Hood, the activist dubbed “Beach Lady” gave away much of her personal fortune to instead dedicating her life to preserving American beaches.

We often say in this blog, “No water no life.”  Nothing drives this home faster than the reality of water pollution, particularly given the various oil spills throughout history.  Enter Dr. Beverly Wright, who has fought to preserve the Mississippi River and since Hurricane Katrina has expanded her activism efforts to focus on water issues throughout Louisiana.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, an international attempt to curb global pollution, has been in the news a lot lately.  It can be credited to many activists dedicated to making it work, not the least of which is Chrstiana Figureres.  A dedicated conservationist and diplomat, Figureres has served as a climate advisor with the UN, and to this day continues to fight for a cleaner planet.

Let’s be real here: there are major strides that need to be made in the world before we can even begin to talk about equal representation as a reality in the sciences.  What we can do in the meanwhile is try to give credit where credit is due.  If there are any badass women working in ecology that you think we’ve missed, share in the comments below!

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Coming to a Theater Near You

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Coming to a Theater Near You

Is it just me, or does the summer movie season start a little earlier every year?  It’s not just me; which is how April has barely begun and we’re already in the throes of major blockbuster releases.

This year’s movie season is particularly special to our crew, because this is the year that The Longest Straw stops being “in production” and begins submitting to festivals.  Yes, it’s imdb official; we’re coming out in 2017, and we want all our fans and all our followers to have the opportunity to view our movie.

There are a few steps we have to take on our end before we can have an official release; we’re talking conversations with theaters, clearing with festivals, and all the other steps between finishing a movie and releasing the movie.  In the meanwhile we invite you to check out our trailer, and if you haven’t already, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  While you’re at it, tell your friends and family to follow us as well.

And stay tuned, because it’s only a matter of time until we can announce our official premier dates and locations.

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Happy Birthday To Us

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Happy Birthday To Us

On the first of April, 2014, I was underemployed, taking odd jobs through a number of services including a temp company.  That morning, I got an unexpected call that they’d lined up a one-day gig at a large, prestigious company.  I didn’t know what I’d be doing, exactly, but I threw on my most professional suit and skedaddled to work.

That was a mistake.  I hadn’t been called in to cover a desk or answer phones or greet guests at reception.  My one-day long job was to help coordinate a staff-wide luncheon kicking off the month of April focusing on green initiatives.  The event was the first of many that would culminate on earth day, drawing attention to the company’s commitment to conservation.

At this point, I should mention that my job duties that day consisted of setting up tables, arranging umbrellas to maximize the shade, handing out gift bags, and making myself available to the caterers, audio visual technicians, or anyone else who might need an extra pair of hands to make this event a success.  I should also point out April in Los Angeles can see weather in the upper 80’s during the day, and also that I was wearing a heavy dress and a suit jacket over it.  You can see where I’m going with this.

During our director’s epic 70 day hike, she learned first-hand the importance of water when hiking through the desert with only what she could carry on her back.  Rationing her water was literally a matter of life and death.  Most people won’t experience anything that dramatic, but they may have an experience similar to mine on that hot day, running around, rarely pausing to rest, barely drinking anything, and sweating continuously.  I became so dehydrated I had to sneak away and sip a bottle of water in a back corner in the shade.  I feared that if I didn’t force myself to take a break, I’d come dangerously close to experiencing vertigo or even passing out – not an experience I wanted to risk on a tenth-story balcony.

And while slowly regaining my balance, getting my feet under my head, and listening to a group of entrepreneurs talk about the new technologies they’d designed to make the world a greener place, I began to think about all the interesting facts about water and conservation I’d learned in the production of The Longest Straw.  That’s when the concept for this blog was born, and my first post went up that very day.

Three years later, our team is immensely grateful for all the supportive fans and readers who read what we have to say every week.  We’re so pleased to share our conservation journey with you.

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