Outdoor watering restrictions cause panic

The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District building in Calabasas, CA. Photo by Samantha Bravo.

Property owners in the Santa Monica Mountains and nearby communities worried about the upcoming mandate severely restricting outdoor water usage were given answers and tips on how to comply at a town hall organized by the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD). Legitimate concerns about brown lawns and brush dry hillsides in fire-prone areas prompted more than 1,000 homeowners to attend LVMWDs virtual meeting May 11.

LVMWDs General Manager David Pedersen explained the water agency has no choice but to follow the Metropolitan Water District’s mandate starting June 1 that limits outdoor watering to just one day a week. Malibu Water District (MWD) supplies LVMWD. It’s faced with a three-year-long drought on the heels of another historic drought from 2012 to 2016. Ninety-five percent of California is in severe or extreme drought. 

MWD is fed by the State Water Project, which is critically low without enough rain and snowmelt to replenish reservoirs. That water eventually travels through the California Aqueduct more than 400 miles to get to Southern California; reports state it is at a trickle. LVMWD says it has been messaging customers since last June about the dire state of the drinking water supply and drought emergency. 

“We can’t manage this emergency without your help. We need to do it together,” Pedersen said. “If water consumption is not reduced dramatically, LVMWD says it’s possible there could be a complete ban on outdoor usage by fall, the height of brush fire season. This is serious, something we want to prevent.”

Starting June 1, properties serviced by LVMWD with even-numbered addresses may only use outdoor sprinklers on Tuesdays for eight minutes at each station. Odd-numbered addresses may only water on Thursdays. No irrigation is allowed between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Washing down sidewalks and driveways is prohibited. Properties with water runoff may be fined. Enforcement will come with a warning letter and escalate to fines as high as $500. Extreme water wasters may then be subject to a flow restriction device installed at the property, which limits flow to a mere dribble. These flow restrictors are anticipated by the end of May.

The restrictions are austere; however, the water agency did list exemptions:

  • Drip irrigation systems
  • Hand watering by bucket or hose with auto-shutoff nozzle
  • Topping off swimming pools (covers suggested)
  • Dust control for corrals
  • Washing/watering animals

To help mitigate impacts, LVMWD is offering free compost to improve water absorption and a free recycled water fill station for up to 300 gallons after completing training. Visit LVMWD.com for more information.

The chat portion of the virtual meeting was filled with important questions that LVMWD addressed. The water retailer explained that homeowner associations can not penalize residents for reducing or eliminating watering vegetation during a state or locally declared drought emergency.

LVMWD officials facing homeowners who must water their hillsides in compliance with their fire insurance said they are “seeking additional allocation through MWD and the state. You may need to focus on the hillside landscaping and water less in other locations on your property (i.e. front yard).” 

An elderly Malibou Lake homeowner wrote of his concern about narrowly surviving the Woolsey Fire and pleaded his need for a green garden to help protect his home in the future. An LVMWD engineer advised hand watering and said they are seeking additional allocations for properties abutting public lands.

One attendee asked, “Why is it that in Los Angeles, 500 feet from my home, they can water twice a week?” John Zhao of LVMWD answered, “City of LA, in general, has smaller lots to high-density housing with little irrigated areas. In addition, they have local water resources such as groundwater, the LA Aqueduct, and the Colorado River. We are 100 percent dependent on the State Water Project.” 

Malibu water supplier District 29 could also tighten its water budget as the Colorado River supplies are running low as well.

Those needing to wash cars were urged to do it at a formal car wash facility. Typically, 90 percent of that water is recycled.

Attendees who complained of high water bills despite less usage were told, “Unfortunately, operation costs continue to rise. We only charge customers for the cost of service.”

Others groused about the state building more housing with “water we don’t have.” LVMWD replied, “Most of these projects are approved years prior to drought.” 

Anonymous reporting of water wasters can be sent to stopthewaste@LVMWD.com or call (818) 251-2200. For more tips and information on turf removal rebates, visit socalwatersmart.com.