Malibu water supply threatened

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Warnings have been issued for people to conserve water. Ad-hoc committee to be formed to discuss feasibility of building a device to increase water flow to Malibu.

By Jonathan Friedman/Staff Writer

This month, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works issued a press release to encourage Malibu residents and visitors to conserve water because a combination of the recent heat wave and other circumstances have decreased the local supply. Although officials said it was not a shortage, they said if residents continue to use too much water, it could become one. Notices have since been distributed through the city’s Web site and by radio, and signs have been placed at the three major entrances to Malibu warning people to conserve water.

Mayor Pro Tem Andy Stern and Councilmember Ken Kearsley will form an ad-hoc committee to determine the possibility of building a device that would increase the amount of water that comes into Malibu. The determination came about during Monday’s City Council meeting at which the city’s water shortage threat was discussed.

Public Works Director Yugal Lall said a major reason for the decrease in Malibu’s water supply is that the Metropolitan Water District, which brings water to Southern California, is upgrading its system, and therefore distributing a lower volume of water. Because temperatures have gone up, people have been using more water, and Malibu’s supply was having a hard time keeping up with the use. According to Los Angeles Waterworks District 29, which operates Malibu’s water supply, one of the three 2 million-gallon tanks that holds Malibu’s water nearly went dry earlier this month.

“We are in a crisis situation,” Lall said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “This is especially because we are entering the fire season.”

The device that the ad-hoc committee will look into is a bypass that would connect a pipe that distributes water to Malibu with another one, thus increasing the water pressure and the amount coming into the city. The cost would be about $3 million. Lall said at Monday’s meeting that District 29 and the West Basin Municipal Water District, which distributes the water to District 29, would have to build the project. But Kearsley asked about the possibility of creating an assessment district of District 29’s 20,000 customers from Malibu and Topanga to pay for it.

“Three million dollars spread over 20,000 people over 20 years isn’t really that much money,” Kearsley said.

City Manager Katie Lichtig said feasibility studies would have to be conducted in order to create an assessment district. After that, District 29 voters would have to approve the assessment district’s creation. Lichtig suggested the city could also encourage District 29 and West Basin that construction of the bypass was necessary so they would pay for it.

Malibu’s water supply originates at a facility in West Los Angeles. A pipe then flows that water to Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, where it is connected to another pipe that travels down the highway to Malibu. The water then goes into the city’s 40 tanks, with most of them holding from 100,000 to 500,000 gallons. There are also three that hold 2 million gallons. The water that is released from these tanks goes into Malibu homes, businesses and other facilities where water is used.

Lall said as the water travels westbound, the pressure decreases, with people in Trancas receiving the least pressure. He said construction of the bypass would remedy this situation. Also, a water pump is being constructed near Malibu Road to increase the pressure, which he said would help somewhat.

Water supply problems in West Malibu present more risks than just people not being able to take a long shower. With Malibu being a fire-prone city, a water crisis could lead to a fire crisis. Lichtig said in a telephone interview last week that the city had had conversations with the nearby Las Virgenes Municipal Water District about connecting with Malibu in times of emergency. But she said no agreement had ever come out of them.

A group of residents living in Trancas Highlands attended Monday’s council meeting to voice their concern about the water supply. They are not connected to Malibu’s water supply at all, instead relying on wells. Resident Scott Tallal said most of the local wells have dried up, so now water must be trucked in daily. The homeowners have since tried to create an assessment district so that a pipe would be built to connect them to the rest of the city’s water. But he said the county has presented them with bad news.

“We’re now being told that even if we had our new water line, pumps and tanks in place, we might be denied water because of the shortage,” Tallal said.

Tallal and other public speakers encouraged the city to do more water-conservation promotion. Several councilmembers also spoke on the issue, encouraging people not to use excessive amounts of water.

Kearsley said the population of the state will continue to grow, but the water supply will not. He said people need to prepare for that.