Malibu goes down to the sea in drips

Malibu residents last weekend got a taste of what life might be like if a major earthquake or other calamity were to disrupt water service to the city.

Some dipped into their emergency reserves or stormed the local market to load up on bottled water and frozen dinners. Others, who were at work or on the beach, were blissfully unaware until they came home and turned on faucets that spewed air or, at best, a trickle.

A landslide near Tuna Canyon Road and PCH Thursday fractured a 30-inch water main leaving some taps dry and others with reduced pressure.

County health officials issued a boil-water warning that was expected to remain in effect until Wednesday. Some PCH businesses were shut down, others were apparently unaffected. (See related stories, page A1, A12.)

Traffic on PCH was reduced to one lane in each direction at 3:30 p.m. Thursday for Los Angeles County Public Works to repair the pipe. The leak was repaired overnight, but when the pressure was turned back on, a second leak sprang about 200 feet west of the first.

County Public Works spokesperson Melinda Barrett said the county contracted with Sparkletts to deliver about 3,500 5-gallon bottles of water to two locations: Pepperdine’s Firestone Fieldhouse and the Trancas Market parking lot. Sheriffs and CHP escorted them through road blocks that had been set up to deter beach goers. In addition to drinking water, seven water trucks stood by for fire protection and watering livestock and 76 portable toilets were placed at the two locations. The Red Cross assisted the county in delivering water directly to the homes of invalids.

The city’s only potable water supply is delivered directly to homes through the high-pressure main. Whatever is not used immediately is stored, but the capacity is only enough to meet the city’s needs for a 24-hour period. (See related story, below.)

At a briefing Friday morning, Fire Chief Steve Alexander told city officials this was more than an inconvenience, as the diminishing city water supply “increased the potential for an incident.” The county agreed to pay the $5,000 for the Citizens Advisory Network (CAN) announcement, which was automatically dialed to homes in the 90265 zip code area. Officials noted later that a very high percentage of the calls consisted of incomplete messages with only the City Hall phone number being received. The city’s emergency hotline and Cable TV Channel 15 were updated periodically with warnings to conserve water and to boil any water used for drinking or cooking for at least five minutes. The boil-water advisory would remain in effect at least until Wednesday, officials said.

The fire department initially ordered three additional water tenders to be staffed on stand-by in case of brush fires. Fortunately, winds were calm and temperatures moderate through the weekend.

Traffic on PCH was closed to all but residents at about 9 p.m. Friday. Restrictions were later eased to allow access to business employees and guests of at least one wedding party. Advisory signs were posted on the 10 Freeway east of the McClure Tunnel; the 101 Freeway at Topanga, Las Virgenes and Kanan roads; and PCH at Las Posas Road in Oxnard and Sunset Boulevard. Closure barricades were installed on Decker Canyon at Mulholland; Encinal Canyon at La Chusa; Latigo Canyon at Mulholland; Kanan at Mulholland; Las Virgenes at Piuma and Lost Hills; and on Las Flores at Rambla Pacifico.

Director of Emergency Services Hap Holmwood declared a local emergency at 4:55 p.m. Friday, which was ratified by the City Council meeting in special session Sunday. It reads in part: “As a result of the loss of water supply, a condition of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property currently exists.” Caltrans was asked to assist the city in notifying the general public not to attempt to use the roads.

Repairs to the second leak were completed at 2 p.m. Saturday. Water service was restored to many customers, but about 1,500 customers were still without water as of midnight, according to Dean Efstathiou of Waterworks District 29. As of 6 a.m. Tuesday, all but six customers had water service restored, and reservoir storage was up to 30 percent of normal capacity.

Residents were asked to continue to conserve water until the storage tanks were refilled, which could take a week or more, and until water service is restored with full pressure to all residents.

Barrett said bottled water was still being distributed at Trancas Market parking lot Tuesday, but was no longer available at Pepperdine. Bottles should be returned to the Civic Center parking lot.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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