The questions came fast and furious for nearly five hours on Wednesday evening, offering insight into the world of wealth, worry and water.
“We have a few large koi ponds [sic] with over 100 fish,” one person said at an anguish-filled town hall meeting of the Municipal Water District of Las Virgenes. “Is there a special exemption for them?”
“How long can we run water to fill our pools? »
“If we are still under the water budget, can we wash our cars once a week? »
These were among 600 questions posed by some of the more than 1,000 residents who followed the Zoom meeting. Many reside in communities served by Las Virgenes, including Agoura Hills, Hidden Hills, Westlake Village, and the celebrity enclave of Calabasas.
Yes, one of the worst droughts in California history is even hitting Kardashian country. But in the land of multimillion-dollar homes, the issue of water conservation plays out differently than it does in the neighborhoods we all live in.
Here, a woman laments spending $8,000 on drought-tolerant creeping bentgrass which, due to water restrictions, may die ‘before it can establish itself’.
“I should be able to water it until it has deep enough roots, so it will take very little at that point,” she said.
Here, the inhabitants ask the district to ensure the awareness of their gardeners. Here, the mayor of Hidden Hills asks about obtaining commercial permits for water trucks to irrigate large residential properties.
That’s a far cry from areas like the Central Valley, where residential wells fail and poorer residents go without running water. Where families are forced to buy gallons of precious water at the grocery store for showers, washing dishes and cooking. Where families have reduced showers to save on water bills.
In Las Virgenes, most of the water is used outdoors — 70% of it.
“Here, people are proud of having, in some cases, a lush landscape. There are places in our district where if you drive, you’ll nod your head and think, “Oh, I can see why the water usage would be higher here,” said David Pedersen, district general manager of the district. ‘water.
“Water usage tends to be above average throughout Los Angeles,” he said. “Because of that, I feel the pressure that we really need to push harder on conservation, because we have more to give, so to speak.”
Las Virgenes, which serves about 75,000 residents in western LA County, relies on the State Water Project, a northern California water supply that officials say is dangerously low after the start of driest year in the state.
After Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District announced its toughest water restrictions for millions of area residents, Las Virgenes staff recommended residents only water their lawns one day a week.
MWD water restrictions are designed to achieve at least a 35% reduction in water consumption, reducing usage to approximately 80 gallons per person per day.
Average residential water use in the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District in 2021 was 193 gallons per person per day, according to state data, more than double the state average of 91 gallons. per person per day.
“We know it’s going to take a lot of sacrifice, we know it’s not going to be nice, we know the lawns are going to turn brown,” McNutt told residents at the town hall meeting. “For us to be successful, each of us has a responsibility to reduce our water consumption.”
A quick Google search of town hall attendees turned up a model, a CFO, a venture capitalist and a mom blogger.
One man, who asked why the district was reactive instead of proactive, said that in his job as vice president of the company, “I think proactively about how to save the company, rather than ‘Oh, the business is dying and I have to save it now.’
It’s not all the riches and the Kardashians in the area, as evidenced by some of the tensions that have erupted among members of the community. One person wrote: “Why is Calabasas beautiful, when West Lake [sic] The village looks awful? »
“There are a lot of people in Calabasas and Hidden Hills who have all the money in the world and don’t care about fines,” another person said. “What will you do?”
In an interview after the town hall, Pedersen acknowledged the tensions between residents of the Water District.
“There’s a kind of dynamic that’s emerged where there are large parts of our community…that are ready to make the switch and let their lawns die or settle in the drought-tolerant natives,” Pedersen said. . “But then what really frustrates them is that another part of the community, usually a wealthier part of the community, isn’t. And then they continue to use a lot of water and then it has an impact on everyone.
The enforcement, focused on residents who go over their water budget by 150%, will involve more than just warnings and fines, Pedersen said.
By the end of this month, at least 20 to 40 of the most egregious offenders will have flow restrictors installed, Pedersen said. The plate placed on the water meter will limit the amount of water passing through and make outdoor watering impossible.
“It’s not something we’re excited about, but it’s a way to control water use for parts of our community where they may not be sensitive to pricing mechanisms,” said Pedersen. “I don’t like blunt enforcement, but we’re in a situation where we just have to, because setting rules, policies and restrictions without enforcement – it doesn’t work.”
At the town hall, as the questions poured in, Las Virgenes employees were ready to answer.
On the koi carp pond, “fill out a budget request form on our website and we can study your request”. On time spent filling pools: “As long as needed if you’re within your budget.” And, when you wash cars, do it at formal car wash facilities where “they recycle 90% of the wash water.”
Residents have complained about having to limit outdoor landscape watering to one day a week, when other districts allow two. People have asked how they can water perennials, like roses.
“I think it would be helpful for people to understand that we live in a Mediterranean ecosystem and water is not a natural product that flows here,” Calabasas Mayor Mary Sue Maurer said at the meeting. . “We need to rethink those lush green lawns and perennials and focus on what the natural environment would be like.”
In response to several questions about pools, district employees urged residents to use pool covers to minimize evaporation. They explained to frustrated customers that golf courses and public parks always look green because they use recycled water.
Other questions concerned the risk of fire in areas where residents would be unable to maintain green spaces due to water restrictions. A resident said that if her hill wasn’t watered, she wouldn’t honor her fire insurance.
A few cited the devastating Woolsey Fire in 2018, which destroyed more than 1,600 structures and burned nearly 97,000 acres from the Thousand Oaks, Oak Park and Agoura Hills areas north of Highway 101 to the Malibu seaside neighborhoods. Three people caught in the flames died.
“I know this is a huge concern, especially looking at the fire in Laguna,” said Calabasas council member Alicia Weintraub.
District workers said they are meeting with city and state officials to try to bring in more water to keep the landscape alive through the upcoming fire season.
The town hall, which Pedersen called the longest public meeting he had ever hosted, dragged on until the very last question was answered around 10:30 p.m.
Already, the district is investing in the Las Virgenes-Triunfo pure water project, which recovers wastewater, strongly purifies it and creates a new source of drinking water. It should be operational by 2028.
But, for some, the future might not come fast enough.
“Some people want to sell their house, want to move out,” said Hidden Hills council member Eniko Gold. “I share their concern.