Rain showers may have quenched a few lawns and greenery this week in Malibu, but make no mistake, it’s not enough to pull California out of a severe drought. Reservoirs are so critically low throughout the state that Governor Gavin Newsom in October urged Californians to voluntarily conserve 15-percent of their water usage. So, it was surprising to see a report from local water agencies citing a two-point-one percent increase in water usage over last year. The Malibu Times did some investigating to find out what those numbers really mean.
Los Angeles County Waterworks District 29 supplies the City of Malibu, Topanga, and Marina del Rey with water. State law requires the water supplier to report water usage to the State Water Resources Control Board. West Basin Municipal Water District tracks the numbers.
“We identified that Malibu and Topanga to date are up probably about two-point one percent. It’s not too bad,” said E.J. Caldwell, Interim General Manager of the West Basin Municipal Water District, who added more perspective. “The comparison when Governor Newsom asked for a 15 percent reduction—he’s requesting that reduction is off of 2020 which doing a specific comparison from one year to one year—a lot of things can factor into that. My underlying message is that Malibu and Topanga are actually doing fairly well. After the Woolsey Fire, you had a lot of people vacate their properties, and you’re just now having people return to the area.” To date, 62 of 450 burned-out homes have been rebuilt. “When people return to the Malibu area, you’re going to see additional water usage,” Caldwell clarified.
A Los Angeles County Department of Public Works spokesperson confirmed the Malibu water usage increase was to be expected. David Rydman emailed The Malibu Times a water usage chart that showed Malibu’s water usage decreased in 2019, one year after the Woolsey Fire. “Since then, District 29 has seen an expected increase in water use attributed to customers rebuilding and repairing homes that were lost or damaged and reestablishing water use patterns in place prior to the fire.”
Caldwell still encourages water conservation while drought conditions exist, saying, “West Basin would like to see all of our communities make that 15 percent voluntary reduction. As a water wholesaler, West Basin works to achieve water use efficiency.”
The water district is promoting a few incentive programs to residents and businesses. On its website conservation page, there are details on a Cash for Kitchens program for commercial kitchens. “We give away water-efficient devices,” Caldwell stated. A program tailored to Malibu residents called “Malibu Smart” has rebates and new technologies for home irrigation, and residents can get five dollars per square foot in rebates for turf/grass removal.
“Outdoor water usage is where the average home utilizes the majority of their water,” Caldwell advised.
Something to note: LA County Waterworks can in the future implement specific pricing to drive water use efficiency, according to the West Basin interim manager. The city can step in as well with prohibitions on future water usage outside, like limiting the number of days sprinklers can be used.
According to Rydman, District 29 is moving forward with the first phase of its Water Shortage Contingency Plan. The WSCP provides a phased approach to helping reduce water demand. Phase One includes public information and education on the water supply. No penalties for excessive household or business usage will be imposed during Phase One. It could include water use restrictions, however, should the drought worsen. At that point, the LA County Board of Supervisors could establish water use allocations and has the authority to impose surcharges for customers that exceed their allocations.
For more water-saving advice and rebate programs, go to Westbasin.org