As we enter some of the hottest and driest months in a historic drought, local water officials have asked the state to allocate more water to the area surrounding Malibu to help mitigate wildfire risk. Unfortunately, that request has been denied.
The Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (LVMWD) that services the Santa Monica Mountains unincorporated Malibu area, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills, in partnership with the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), made the request to the State Water Project citing the area designated as “very high fire hazard severity zones.”
“The situation with the drought is dire. We are facing unprecedented drought conditions and subsequently the impacts on our water supply,” said Riki Clark, LVMWD Public Affairs Associate. “We are 100 percent dependent on water from the State Water Project, which delivers water from the northern Sierra Mountains and that snowpack is historically dry. It’s made a difficult and dire situation going into the summer. Other areas of Los Angeles, including Waterworks 29 that services the City of Malibu have other sources of water to rely on and haven’t been impacted as gravely as we have. In addition to being 100 percent reliant on that imported source of water we are in a very fire-prone area.
“We requested the water in order to help combat fire season and, unfortunately, the state just didn’t have those supplies to give to us even with those reasons. They’re in a difficult situation too. We understand when the supplies aren’t there, they aren’t there. This has forced us to pivot and now try to seek other sources of water.”
LVMWD is investigating obtaining water from other agencies and working with MWD to reassess allocations.
“We’re doing all that we can to try to tap into other sources because it is very dire,” Clark said.
According to Clark, this is why LVMWD has enacted stringent water use restrictions specifically pertaining to two-day-a-week outdoor watering and urging customers to conserve indoors as much as possible. “When we ask our customers to scale back and potentially sacrifice the esthetics of a lawn just for now until our water sources are replenished we know that it’s difficult but we hope our customers understand and continue to answer the call,” Clark said.
In response to the denial letter from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) LVMWD stated, “Alternate strategies will be needed to help communities be better prepared for the threat of wildfire.”
The City of Malibu has a robust program of fire prevention measures including home ignition zone assessments. Residents can make an appointment for a free assessment of their property with a Malibu fire liaison, who will provide a checklist of ways that you can harden your home to protect against flying embers, a main cause of homes igniting in a wildfire. To schedule a free appointment simply call (310) 456-2489, ext. 388 or 268 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The city manager and public safety manager also meet weekly with the Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department to discuss current and forecasted fire conditions, community concerns, and deployment levels in response to wildfire threat factors, such as hot, dry, windy weather, fuel moisture levels, and Santa Ana winds. The city also regularly hosts multi-agency presentations on wildfire prevention and evacuations for residents and animals.
Even before the Woolsey Fire, Malibu City officials always urged residents to create a defensible space around their homes and to clear dead or dying vegetation.
“I would like to urge everyone to have a home hardening assessment from one of our three fire safety officers,” Malibu Mayor Paul Grisanti told The Malibu Times. “If we can stop ember spread by making your home less susceptible to being ignited by an ember there’s a lot less work to do for fireman. Not having to put out your home is a very good thing.”
Grisanti also mentioned a few inexpensive or free fire prevention tips, such as installing steel mesh over attic vents and openings, placing wooden patio furniture more than five feet away from your home, and trimming “out of control” landscaping.
LVMWD plans to hold a community workshop with regional and state partners in the coming months to discuss these topics and other strategies to address wildfire concerns. LVMWD’s last town hall in May saw 1,300 people virtually attend to discuss the drought.