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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Our Favorite Things: (April) Foolish Water Conservation Attempts

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Our Favorite Things: (April) Foolish Water Conservation Attempts

Things change.  Specifically, the width and breadth of human knowledge changes.  Details that we took as a given a century, a decade, or even a week ago will later be revealed to be based on faulty information.  The world of water conservation is now different.  Since this week is April Fool’s Day, I’d like to spend this blog post talking about some of the more foolish attitudes people have historically taken toward their water.

The first way that people have been (April) fools is an unfortunate attitude that persists today: the notion that water is an infinite resource.  It makes a certain amount of sense: 2/3 of the earth’s surface is covered in water, and more will always fall from the sky, right?  Sure, but now we know about residence time and pollution.  While it may be tempting to think of water as something that will always be there, conservation efforts must treat our water supply as limited.

You see a similar attitude in some of the legal restrictions still impacting LA’s water management policies today.  Take a look, for example, at the Colorado River allocation agreement from 1922.  The agreement was based around incorrect figures of the river’s actual capacity, meaning that the states that share this water supply allocated more water than actually exists in a normal year.  Nobody who made these agreements thought to confirm their figures, or think about how their agreements might be impacted by drought or climate shifts, let alone leave some water behind for the plants and animals that depended on it.  Even the Los Angeles Aqueduct and California Aqueduct impact communities throughout California in ways that would have been foreseeable with a bit more, well, foresight.

Let’s talk about aquifers.  In simplest terms, water exists under the ground everywhere – you could pick any point on earth and start digging, and eventually, you will hit water.  There are sustainable ways to tap into these resources and not-so sustainable ways but one activity to put in the “NOT GOOD” category would be to pollute this underground reservoir in a community notorious for its low rainfall.  Enter the San Fernando Valley.  The home of ample industry, the groundwater under the neighborhood Los Angeles residents know as “The Valley” is deeply polluted – a growing concern as the LA-area looks for more sources of drinking water.  Some forward thinking about preserving water supply a few decades ago could have spared the City of Angels from many of its drinking water woes now.

As time marches on, so does science.  No matter how cutting edge or forward thinking we may think ourselves, odds are that at some point in the future, people will look back on one of our cultural assumptions and wonder “What were they thinking?”  This is an inevitable part of the passage of time.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make our best effort now to be open-minded and try to be sustainable in the way we know best given the evidence we have at hand.  Don’t be an April fool: care for your planet.

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Our Favorite Things: DIY Conservation

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Our Favorite Things: DIY Conservation

Guys, water conservation can get expensive.  Sure, on the plus side you’ve got all the savings coming in through your water bill, but sometimes it can take months or years to off-set the initial cost of a big water installation, especially if you have to hire professionals to take care of setting things up foryou.  The solution? Do it yourself!

For example, imagine if every morning, instead of hopping into the bathroom, you donned a swimsuit and took a brisk outdoors shower?  That’s just what our director Samantha Bode did.  The reasoning was simple: rather than run all those gallons of perfectly-good greywater down a drain, shower in the grass and let that water irrigate your lawn.

If you’ve got a particularly large yard and just don’t think your shower water will cut your lawn needs, you can install rain barrels for some extra irrigation.  If you’re feeling particularly handy, you can even self-install a simple greywater system, although you may want to reach out for help with the more intensive plumbing or permitting processes.

Another big water-guzzler in your home is your toilet.  While composting toilets can cost big bucks, you can transform your commode into a low-flow fixture with a brick or a bottle of water.  Just be careful that you don’t damage the plumbing and ultimately use even more water.

Rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty is a tried-and-true method for not only doing good work, but feeling good about yourself at the end of the day.  You can take things a step further by sharing your DIY-conservation techniques on social media or with us, to show others how simple and un-intimidating it really is.

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Being a Water Evangelist

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Being a Water Evangelist

You’re awesome.  No, really, you are.  Sure, I know nothing about you – who you are, where you are, or whether you’re literally a serial killer, but one thing I do know is that you’re reading this blog post right now, which means you’re visiting our website, which means you must care about conservation issues.  Otherwise, why would you be here?

And if you care about these issues, it stands to reason that you’re probably taking steps to make sure you’re living an earth-friendly life, which brings us back to that original pronouncement – you’re awesome.  We all have a role to play in keeping limited resources like water clean and accessible, and we salute you for doing your part.

But what about those who aren’t doing their part?  Despite public attempts to drought-shame, city and state-wide PR campaigns, and even fees and fines against the worst water-abusers, some people just like to act like what comes out of their tap is just as good running down the drain.

So I’m sending you out now to share your Good News with those less fortunate, who may not realize how important conservation is.  But that raises the next question: if all those major campaigns haven’t sunk in, how can you convince your friends and colleagues to cut back?

One way?  Normalize conservationist behavior.  Bandwagons can be used for good as well as ill, but if you can casually mention that you’re switching to a drought-tolerant lawn or that you’re doing Meatless Mondays to reduce virtual water, conservationist behavior becomes less a thing “those people” do (hippies, liberals, eco-nuts) and more a thing that ordinary people can do without fuss.

And speaking of ordinary people, sometimes going green can be intimidating until you lead by example.  I know nothing about plumbing, but I feel way better about tackling a leaky pipe if another similarly plumbing-deficient person tries their hand at something and succeeds.  If he or she can show me or tell me what they did, even better!

And don’t forget, making earth-friendly choices can have other benefits that may appeal more to the person who doesn’t value conservation.  Virtual-water intensive foods also tend to be high in fat and sugar, so a water-friendly meal can also shed pounds.  Carpooling doesn’t just save gas, it also saves dollars for whoever isn’t using their car.  Skipping showers can actually help your hair and skin absorb healthy oils. 

If good-natured testimony doesn’t work, you can always trick people into saving.  (Note: The Longest Straw doesn’t endorse lying, but we’re not going to tattle on you for it, either. *wink*)

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If you’re in charge of ordering snacks for the office or for your kids’ school, make conscious choices to bring the green.  If you’re stocking up on office supplies, aim for the recycled materials.   Nobody can object to your conscious decisions if they don’t know what’s happening!

OK, that last one might be a bit much, but the important thing is, when you can get other people, like-minded or not, with you on your green choices, it multiplies your efforts.  And then, you’re not just awesome, you’re a rock star.

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Conservation in a Post-Drought State

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Conservation in a Post-Drought State

Last Friday night, I went grocery shopping because I’ve never been cool.  While other Los Angeles denizens were hitting the clubs or knocking back martinis, I tried to discern my chicken-scratch handwriting to ensure I wouldn’t forget any of the necessities on my shopping list.  I got the usual: rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, green lentils… and then I got to the frozen meat aisle.

For those of you who haven’t been following this blog series, at this point I might remind you that since January of 2014, I have been maintaining a vegetarian kitchen.  I wasn't ready to fully take the plunge into all-out meatless meals, and still enjoyed the occasional dinner out with a beef burrito or chicken sandwich, but when it came to the food I prepared myself, which was at least 80% of the food I consume, I was going full veg.  The reason: meat has such a large virtual water footprint I couldn’t justify that much water consumption in a time of severe emergency drought

But this past month, for the first time since we elected Pope Francis, a large portion of California was no longer in a drought.  And with the ongoing rain deluge we’ve been getting, perhaps the remainder of the state may soon get some much-needed liquid relief.

So what’s a girl to do?  Was it time to splurge on some bacon and lamb chops?

In my case, on this evening, the answer was “no.”  That’s the short answer, at least.  The full explanation is just a bit more complicated.

Most of our drinking water in Los Angeles comes from outside the city, and most of that water travels hundreds of miles to get to us.  On the upside, that means the city of Angels can remain mired in drought while our tap water flows from an abundant supply.  On the downside, the opposite can be true as well, as communities like the Mono Basin and Owens Valley can grow increasingly parched while we keep draining them dry.

The fact is, it’s almost impossible to know how the things we do now will impact other people.  That bacon I was eyeing?  It could be from Central California, or Iowa, or even from Denmark.   Our water comes from the Mono Basin, or sometimes from the Delta, and even from the Colorado River.  Our clothes, our gasoline, our cars, our, shoes, our electronic devices – everything we own came from somewhere else, and without a great deal of research, we can’t know how our shopping habits impact other people and environments.

At least one resource is a little illuminated: we at The Longest Straw hope to clarify the journey your water travels to get to you, and we hope that when our movie is released later this year, you’ll take that journey with us.

In the meanwhile, maybe just lay off on the cheeseburgers.

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What Are You Giving Up?

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What Are You Giving Up?

March 1 is Ash Wednesday, a day observed by many Christians as the beginning of their Lenten season.  Without delving too heavily into theology, lent is a 40 day and 40 night-long period prior to Easter, which many observe by giving something up; like meat, or desserts, cigarettes, or some other treat or vice.  This is a form of discipline – literally a form of training, usually involving negative reinforcement.  Incidentally, discipline shares the same root word as “disciple.”

Aren’t we all water disciplines, in our own way?  We restrict a few of life’s simple pleasures: long showers, vibrant grassy green lawns, and our favorite foods, in order to conserve something greater than ourselves: clean, drinkable water. 

Making radical life changes can be hard: I get it.  Few of us are born in an environment of scarcity, especially those of us born and raised within the United States.  That’s why we must discipline ourselves to resist the allure and ease of the tap.  And regardless of your religious leanings, there are plenty of lessons we can take from Lenten aesthetics.

So for this Lenten season, we suggest you give up a water-wasting habit just for 40 days.  That’s just a little over a month.  When Easter morning arrives, you can re-evaluate.  Perhaps, after your season of sacrifice, you’ll realize that the lifestyle shift wasn’t as intimidating as you’d originally feared, and stick with your discipline afterward.  Perhaps you’ll decide some pleasures aren’t worth giving up.  Either way, you’ve done your part for 40 days, and the earth thanks you for your efforts.

Not sure what to discipline to adopt?  Take a look at our suggestions below:

-          Go vegetarian

-          Time your showers, and never keep the water running longer than 5 minutes

-          Avoid buying any new clothes, shoes, or electronics.  If you must buy something, purchase used or refurbished.

-          Take public transit instead of driving yourself.

-          Cook your own meals from scratch

-          Install a rain barrel

-          Install a greywater system

-          Build an outdoor shower and do all your showering outside

-          Live plastic-free (yes, it’s do-able)

-          Replace grass with drought-tolerant plants

-          If it’s yellow, let it

Are you up to the water Lenten challenge?  If so, share what you’re giving up with #H2Go to help spread the news.

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Getting Wet and Wild with the Nominees: The Second Annual Wa-scars

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Getting Wet and Wild with the Nominees: The Second Annual Wa-scars

One year ago, in honor of the 2016 Oscars, we wrote a blog post with some of our own honorees: those who had behaved notably – and not always nobly – on issues of water management.  They were meant to be a water-themed Oscars, or as we dubbed it, the Wa-scars.

Another year has gone by, the world of environmentalism has seemingly transformed overnight since Inauguration Day, and here we are with another Academy Awards ceremony looming on the horizon.  So, without further ado, we present to you our second year’s worth of recipients at The Longest Straw’s Wa-scars.

Most Powerful Conservation Advocates: The No Dakota Access Pipeline (No DAPL) protesters made news in the summer of 2016 as they picketed and fought the development of a natural gas pipeline intended to run across Sioux tribal lands.  By sparking a global activist movement that made phrases like “Standing Rock” household words, the No DAPL protesters set a precedent for what environmental advocacy could mean.  They seemed to achieve victory for their cause in December, until the president reversed that decision.  The battle’s not over yet, so we salute the No DAPL protesters.

Favorite Government Rogues:  Alt national agency Twitter accounts are the heroes we never knew we needed.  While we generally try to avoid taking overtly political stances, we at The Longest Straw hold a few truths to be self-evident.  Our planet and our environment must be cherished and cared for.  The only way to effectively mount a conservation effort is to respond to known data and information.  And withholding climate data from the public is a bad, bad thing.  So when Donald Trump ordered environmental organizations to stop spreading climate data via social media, a few rogue employees created unofficial accounts to spread important information without technically violating Trump’s orders.  Kudos to our new favorite rebels.

Worst Backsliders:  Los Angeles, you could do so much better.  When 2016 water conservation data came in, our city revealed itself to have, shall we say, come up high and dry in its efforts.  True, heavy rainfall means an end of the drought may be on the horizon, but LA’s increased water use happened before the winter’s deluge.  For a city of angels, we certainly seem to be on the side of the devils more often than not.

As we play off the long-winded recipients, fake some tears, and share our emotional red-carpet interviews, let’s remember that behind all the glitz and the pageantry, there are very real conservation issues impacting people every day of their lives.  Keep conserving, keep stepping up when necessary, and who knows?  Maybe next year’s Wa-scars can celebrate a fantastic year thanks to your efforts.

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Our Favorite Things: Eco-friendly Pampering

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Our Favorite Things: Eco-friendly Pampering

Self-care is important.  Unfortunately, so is caring for our planet, and all too often, those two things are mutually exclusive.  Even minor pleasures, like relaxing in a warm bubble bath or indulging in an extra slice of chocolate cake, often come with debilitating water footprints.  So how can you get your relax on without harming the planet?

A quick Google search for “eco-friendly pampering” leads to a lot of products you can buy, but “eco friendly” means something different to every person.  For this blog, we’re focused mainly on avoiding unnecessary virtual water footprints, so we’re going to avoid any tips that require buying new products, especially products with artificial packaging or that require to be shipped to you.

One simple treat is infused water.  It’s becoming a big trend here in California, and water infusion has expanded well beyond its humble beginnings as water with sliced cucumbers in it at the spa.  These days, people are combining all sorts of herbs and fruits in their water, and by selecting virtual-water friendly fruits or even better, by using home-grown garden ingredients, you can have a taste of your favorite spa without leaving the house.

Really need to unwind?  Skip the gym and do your next workout outside.  Yoga in the park or a jog along a lake don’t use any water (just be sure to keep your shower short afterward) but allow you to feel more in-tune with nature.  If you live here in California and have access to our abundance of state and national parks, go for a nice long hike.

Stress management is important, and going green shouldn’t mean you have to give yourself short shrift when relieving the tensions of the day.  How do you #relaxgreen?

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