Waterworks Presents Malibu Overhaul to Sparse Crowd

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County officials plan to complete 37 pipeline and water tank upgrades and repairs during the first five to seven years (Phase I) of a 20-year, $266-million water infrastructure overhaul in Malibu and Topanga. 

The Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts (LACWD) held a meeting at City Hall last week to collect public input for its environmental report on a $266-million, 20-year water system overhaul in Malibu. 

However, the meeting drew just three attendees, including The Malibu Times.

Representatives also conducted a review of the project Master Plan, which was developed over the past three years. It identifies deficiencies in the existing water system along with upcoming changes in codes and water quality standards. The long list of projects will be carried out in five phases through the year 2035, with over half the $266 million spent on new pipelines, and most of the rest on tanks and pump stations.

Sarah Garber, principal environmental scientist for MWH Global, Inc., is tasked with preparing the draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). She said doing one DEIR for 20 years worth of similar projects “looks at the cumulative impact of all the projects even though there may be some site-specific mitigation measures.” The EIR will need to be reviewed and updated about once every five years until 2035. As with most DEIRs, assessments include project impacts on biological resources, cultural resources and traffic. The DEIR should be ready for public input by fall 2015.

Planning Commissioner John Mazza raised concerns that upgrading the water system in Malibu would stop the de facto building moratorium that’s taken place over the past few years because of new fire department requirements. He wanted to know if the upgraded water system would “increase the ‘buildability’ of Malibu” and have “a direct impact on an increase in population here.”

Garber said, “Only parts of Malibu are in the Master Plan, not all of it.” Therefore, “The EIR does not include any analyses on increases in population.”

Public Works Commissioner Paul Grisanti, after expressing concern over the glacial pace at which District 29 has been proceeding on upgrading Malibu’s water system, asked if residents “would have the ability to weigh in on when work would be done” (i.e., not during the summer peak season). 

“The impact assessment will address that,” Garber replied.

Los Angeles County Waterworks District 29 – the water utility provider for 22,000 people living in Malibu and Topanga – was created on Sept. 29, 1959. They took over most parts of the Malibu Water Co., founded in 1905 by the Rindge family. The deal didn’t include the Rindge Dam, and also didn’t appear to include irrigation customers who got water from the dam. 

Although District 29 upgraded and added pipelines beginning in 1960, Malibu still has some of that same infrastructure 55-plus years later. During the last half-century, fire codes have changed, and some neighborhoods now don’t have big enough pipelines to deliver the volume of water required for firefighting or the building of new homes.

The projects are being done in order of priority, with water quality issues first. Next on the list is ensuring back-up water sources are available in the event of a broken pipe. A perfect example was the water main break and sinkhole on November 27 that forced the closure of Pacific Coast Highway near Trancas Canyon Road for over five hours, and left over 100 residences without water. One of the first projects District 29 will tackle is an emergency connection to the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District’s (LVMWD) line at Encinal Canyon.

Third on the list of priorities is addressing the fire department’s water flow requirements. 

Phase 1, which is not expected to be shovel-ready until 2017, will cost $56.3 million. It will include not only the connection to LVMWD at Encinal, but tank piping and circulation improvements at Point Dume, and upsizing various 2- and 4-inch pipes to 8- to 10-inch pipes throughout District 29. Pipeline replacements will be grouped together by location, and likely constructed at the same times. Phase 1 also includes work on tank sites at Portshead Road, Philip Avenue, upper Encinal Canyon, Las Flores Mesa and Carbon Mesa.

District 29 has already done field investigations of all Phase 1 projects, an initial biological survey and a technical memorandum documenting field conditions. 

Work now in progress includes an elevation survey of all project locations, soil stability testing, selection of materials and products, review of compliance with new codes (like spacing of fire hydrants) and preliminary designs.

Anyone wanting to provide input for the DEIR can send comments by email to Mr. Sami Kabar at skabar@dpw.lacounty.gov by 5 p.m., Dec. 23, 2014.