Malibu Resident Advocates for Clean Water For All

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Madelyn Glickfeld

Many of us who live in the paradise called Malibu may sometimes take our Eden for granted. Yet often behind the scenes are stewards helping to secure our eco environment to ensure paradise is not lost. Malibu’s Madelyn Glickfeld not only works to build a clean environment locally, she’s advocating for less fortunate areas in Los Angeles that are in desperate need for basics—mainly clean drinking water.

It’s hard to believe, because when we turn on our taps we generally get clean, clear potable water. But that’s not the case in many neighborhoods just miles away elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Often residents in Southeast LA including Maywood, Compton, Willowbrook and Cudahy open faucets to find brown, stinky water, more than likely filled with contaminants. This often affects communities in urban areas located near industrial centers. 

“We have over 200 water systems in LA. Sixty-four of them are basically focused in areas that are very poor. They don’t have enough money to do the kind of water treatment they need. It affects about 29 water systems.” 

As the director of partnerships for the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Glickfeld, a water policy expert, just wrote an informative paper to be reviewed by the LA County Board of Supervisors and state officials.

According to the longtime environmental activist and former California Coastal Commissioner, “Some of these water districts were formed before there were laws about creating them.  

“Over decades, some of these areas have become much more impoverished. When there are renters, they often don’t know who supplies their water. They have a problem and don’t know how to fix it. There are public agencies working to put treatment systems in, but they still have other problems that are going to take a lot of time and money to resolve—money they don’t have.”

The 45-year Malibu resident hopes her policy paper will convince legislative bodies to take action to bring clean drinking water to all of Los Angeles County and beyond and to hold responsible industries accountable to clean it up. “We can’t wait decades while industry fights cleaning the messes they created.”  There’s now a bill based on her report. 

Glickfeld’s research exposes inequities in the myriad water supply systems in the county. Some are big, investor-owned utilities. Yet, the environmental activist explained,  “You can walk across the street in southern LA County and on one side of the street the rate is, let’s say, $25 per month and the other side is nearly triple. It turns out the poorest areas that are served by big investor owned utilities have the most expensive water. The investor-owned utilities that serve moderate-income and higher areas are actually cheaper.”

Glickfeld became concerned about water pollution while serving on the board of the nonprofit Heal the Bay and the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.  That’s where, she says, she learned about storm water pollution and how it affected the ocean. 

“We didn’t leave enough impervious surface—starving our groundwater basins,” she said. “That was the beginning of my interest in ground water because we actually are not a desert here … We have mountains and the snow pack. The snow pack has traditionally filled huge groundwater basins and a lot of our water comes from these. 

“People think that all water here is imported,” she continued. “It happens to be the case in Malibu because we don’t have ground water basins. However, in other parts of Los Angeles County, 60,70 and even 90 percent of their water comes from ground water. When I was at the Regional [Water] Board, I found out that these ground water basins had been polluted and had been made into superfund sites. I learned about the communities most impacted by that. Ground water pollution volatilizes and comes up into the soil and turns into air pollution. It also pollutes the soil. It’s important to clean up this groundwater because with climate change we’re not going to have as much snowpack. The only way to store water will be our ground water basins. And we have to do better.” 

Glickfeld encouraged Malibu residents to advocate for clean water for all by writing to legislators and concluded with a take away saying, “No one should take their water for granted.”