No extra water for SoCal’s high-risk wildfire zones

State officials have denied requests by Southern California city water counties for additional water supplies to reduce wildfire risk.

The agencies worked with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to request that the California Department of Water Resources allocate an additional 26,300 acres of water under the health and safety exception to the drought rules, using the rationale that Exceptions must include supplies to reduce wildfire risk by watering vegetation in high-risk areas.

“Irrigation of the landscape in defensible spaces, as described in your request, can play a role in reducing wildfire risk,” reads the July 29 response from DWR and the Forest Service. and the California Fire Department. “However, alternative approaches to fire prevention are available that would be as effective as additional deliveries, and therefore DWR is denying your request.”

Residents and officials should reduce risks by hardening structures with fire-resistant materials, creating defensible spaces and adopting fuel management programs, the letter recommends. If vegetation in a protected space cannot be watered enough to keep it from dying, the letter said.

David Pedersen, general manager of the Las Virgenes City Water District, said in a statement.

The state has provided additional water to agencies in the event of a health and safety exception to prevent dead trees that could pose a fire hazard and to maintain reservoirs and other water sources for firefighting. , the letter noted.

“At this point, additional water supply beyond these limited needs raises the possibility that the State will have to make a tougher trade-off on water supplies in 2023,” it wrote.

The Las Virgenes City Water District, which led the request for more water, said it would pursue alternative strategies. Such activities include attempting to purchase water from other agencies, as well as working with the Los Angeles County Fire Department to organize community workshops and other outreach efforts to educate customers about ways to reduce the risk of fire around their homes, said county spokesman Mike McNutt.

“It seems like what the state is doing is around the need to try to educate and motivate homeowners to be more responsible in creating defensive spaces for them in the event of a bushfire,” he said. speak. “It’s really just this new realization that every person living in California is responsible for reducing their water use and protecting their home from the potential for wildfires and other natural disasters.”

Las Virgenes Water District serves communities in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, most of which are rated by Cal Fire as having the highest risk of severe wildfire. Business-as-a-Service customers, including Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, Westlake Village and Calabasas, saw their water use decrease by 20% in May and 37% in June compared to the same period in 2020. , but the county’s allocation is 73% less, officials said.

Las Virgenes is completely dependent on imported water, much of it from the State Water Project, and cannot be obtained from groundwater supplies or alternative sources such as the Colorado River, McNutt said.

For that reason, the district said, it is forced to withdraw about 17 acres per day from the Las Virgenes Reservoir, in order to meet urgent needs. McNutt says the reservoir provides about six months of water when it’s full and is currently at about 79% of capacity.

In a letter supporting the request for more water, LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby (who is retired) wrote that if the situation continues, it could jeopardize the district’s ability to in providing the minimum supply needed to support flow requirements for fire fighting. Fire.

Residents at a town hall meeting in May of the Las Virgenes Water District expressed concern about how limiting drought would affect wildfire activity. Several speakers survived the Woolsey Fire, which destroyed more than 1,600 structures from Thousand Oaks to Malibu and killed three people. No restrictions were put in place at the time.

“This is a public safety issue that has generated concern among LVMWD employees, the board, residents, and the communities we serve,” said Jay Lewitt, water district board chairman. , said in a statement. “We are well aware of the possibility of a fire hazard in our region and that is another reason why we are relentless in our pursuit of more water.”

McNutt said the county will continue to have enough water to support firefighting operations, but residents can no longer count on an adequate supply to sustain the vegetation that grows around their homes.

“In terms of having enough water to continue to irrigate your outdoor living space, where the vegetation is still alive and will help fight the fires, I don’t think from now on that will really be the case. something people can rely on. , “I said. “It’s a new reality of what’s happening in the state of California, with climate change leading the way and with unusual and erratic weather patterns that we can’t rely on now.”

The water district understands the state’s reasoning, he added. “There’s not enough water to meet everyone’s needs,” he said. “And what has happened to us is just an indication of how historic and catastrophic water scarcity really is right now.”

Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-09/no-extra-water-for-socals-high-risk-wildfire-zones No extra water for SoCal’s high-risk wildfire zones

Edmund DeMarche

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