No additional water for SoCal’s high-risk wildfire areas

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State officials have declined a request from Southern California municipal water districts for more water to reduce the risk of wildfires.

The agencies worked with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. To ask the California Department of Water Resources To allocate more than 26,300 acre-feet of water under the health and safety exception to drought rules, using the argument that the exception includes supplying to reduce wildfire hazards by irrigating vegetation in high-risk areas should be included.

“Irrigation of landscaping within a protected location may play a role in reducing wildfire risk, as described in your request,” read a July 29 response from DWR and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “However, alternative approaches to fire prevention are available that would be just as effective as supplemental delivery, and therefore DWR is denying your request.”

The letter recommends that residents and officials should reduce the risk by hardening structures with fire-resistant materials, creating defensive spaces, and implementing fuel management programs. The letter states that if the vegetation within a protected area cannot be provided with enough water to keep it from dying, it should be cut down.

“We are disappointed with the decision, but understand the state’s challenge to balance the needs of the more than 27 million people who receive water from the state water project,” said David Pedersen, LAAS general manager. Virgens Municipal Water District said in a statement.

The letter said the state is already providing additional water to agencies under the health and safety exception to prevent tree death that would contribute to the fire risk and to create fire-fighting reservoirs and other water sources. Will keep

“At this point in time, providing supplemental water beyond these narrow demands raises the possibility that the state will have to trade even harder on water supplies in 2023,” it read.

The Las Virgens Municipal Water District, which led the request for more water, said it would pursue alternative strategies. District spokesman Mike McNutt said these included trying to procure water from other agencies, as well as working with the Los Angeles County Fire Department to educate customers on how to reduce the risk of fire around their homes. community workshops and other outreach efforts.

“It seems that what the state is doing is out of the need to educate homeowners to create defensive spaces for themselves in the event of a wildfire progression and try to take more responsibility,” he said. Told. “It’s really just this new realization that everyone living in California has to take responsibility for reducing their water use and protecting their home from the potential for wildfires and other natural disasters.”

The Las Virgens Water District serves communities in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, most of which are rated by the Cal Fire as having the highest risk of serious wildfire. Customers in the service sector, which includes Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, Westlake Village and Calabasas, reduced water use by 20% in May and 37% in June from the same months in 2020, but the district’s allocation is down 73% , officials said.

McNutt said that Las Virgens is entirely dependent on imported water, much of which is from state water projects, and has not been able to draw from groundwater supplies or alternative sources such as the Colorado River.

For this reason, the district said, it has been forced to remove about 17 acre-feet a day from the Las Virgens reservoir, intended to meet emergency needs. McNutt said the reservoir provides about six months’ worth of water supply when it fills up and is now at about 79% capacity.

In a letter supporting the request for more water, LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby (who has retired) wrote that if the situation continues, it could jeopardize the ability of the district to fight the department. To provide the minimum supply required to support the flow requirements. fire

Residents at Las Virgens Municipal Water District May Town Hall Meeting Apprehensions expressed over how drought restrictions will affect wildfire activity, Many of the speakers had survived the Woolsey fire, which destroyed more than 1,600 structures from Thousand Oaks to Malibu and killed three people. There was no drought restriction at that time.

“This is a public safety issue that has caused concern among LVMWD employees, the board, residents and the communities we serve,” Jay Levitt, the board’s chairman of the Water District, said in a statement. “We are well aware of the potential for a fire hazard in our region and this is another reason we continue to pursue more water.”

McNutt said the district would continue to have enough water to support firefighting operations, but residents could no longer rely on adequate supplies to sustain the flourishing vegetation around their homes.

“In terms of having enough water to irrigate your outdoor living space, where the vegetation is still alive and would help combat the flames, I don’t think going forward now, would really be something that people would think about. You can trust,” he said. “What’s happening in the state of California is the new reality, with climate change rearing its head and with unusual and uncertain weather patterns we just can’t trust.”

He said that the water district understands the logic of the state. “There is not enough water to meet everyone’s needs,” he said. “And what happened to us is just a sign of how historic and dire the water scarcity situation really is.”

Times staff writer Brittany Mejia contributed to this report.

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