By Ted AYALA
Residents of the foothills communities may be feeling anxious in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration of a statewide drought emergency last week. California has been exceptionally parched this past year, with levels of rainfalls dropping to historic lows. Gov. Brown called the drought “perhaps the worst ever since records began being kept about a hundred years ago.”
Despite some rain over the weekend, the forecast for any appreciable amounts of precipitation over the next few weeks appears grim.
For residents of the foothills, the pain of drought conditions doesn’t just stop at voluntary and compulsory conservation of this water-starved state’s most precious resource. It also evokes memories of the devastating Station Fire of 2009, which burned over 160,000 acres and destroyed 89 homes along the periphery of the Angeles National Forest, not to mention the subsequent mudslides in the winter of 2010 that brought further anguish to affected communities. Mudslides early that year overflowed flood basins and caused extensive damage to neighborhoods in La Crescenta and La Cañada.
It’s a memory that is also all too vivid for local firefighters as well.
Fire departments in Glendale and Los Angeles County are preparing contingency plans for what is looking to be an exceptionally dry fire season this summer.
Inspector Tony Aikens of the Los Angeles County Fire Dept. (LACFD) said his agency understands the challenges, but that they’re ready to meet them.
“As part of our ongoing efforts and daily routing, [LACFD] is in constant communication with the National Weather Service,” he said. “Every day we conduct a fire weather analysis using objective and empirical criteria. [We] anticipate having additional resources and staff prepared as do our colleagues at the United States Forest Service. Our ‘Super Scoopers’ are still on contract. But a long-term evaluation of the situation is still ongoing.”
Aikens also said that the LACFD is currently holding fire recruit seminars, but that those are largely unrelated to current fire conditions.
“The county doesn’t just hire additional staff,” he said. “Because it takes 18 weeks to go out our front door.”
Brandy Villanueva, spokesperson for the Glendale Fire Dept. (GFD), said that her department is watching the situation closely and is ready to act should conditions worsen.
“Currently, GFD is monitoring the drought conditions locally and throughout the state,” she said. “GFD crews are being extra diligent in staying prepared and monitoring their districts especially during Red Flag Warning periods. The city’s brush clearance program will begin in April by notifying residents to clear the brush around their property.”
She also noted that, because of a foreseeable lack of rain continuing into the future, mudslides are likely not going to be a source of major concern this year.
“It is necessary to have a large amount of rain over a short period of time in a concentrated area or a consistent rainfall in an area that has limited ground cover to have a mudslide; therefore the drought conditions would not increase the chance of mudslides,” Villanueva explained.
For the wider community, though, water rationing will likely be the most direct impact from the drought these residents will feel.
“We’re going to bombard Glendale Water & Power [GWP]customers with reminders about conservation and tips to help them,” said Steve Zurn, the agency’s general manager. “It’s about continuing to remind people to think about the things they do on a daily basis and cut their water use. Take shorter showers, turn the shower off, refrain from doing things like hosing off patios and walkways.”
Zurn said that so far the GWP is only enacting the first phase of its conservation efforts, which depends exclusively on voluntary efforts to cut back water use. The department is watching what the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 70% of the GWP’s water, does next to respond accordingly.
“They have put in [their] voluntary conservation efforts and are hoping to get a 20% reduction through those measures,” he said. “We keep in the voluntary efforts even when we’re not in times of extreme droughts. The City of Glendale and the GWP take very seriously the situation we’re in. GWP has done a lot in building and adding to their storage capacity which is key to enduring a drought situation. We are okay with the voluntary efforts for now. But we have mandatory ordinances ready to be enacted if it continues or worsens.”
Zurn said that the city’s past conservation efforts have proven effective.
“Conservation is going to have to become a way of life for us. It needs to be a way of life,” he said. “The reality is that there is a shortage of water. Things like the extreme low levels of snow pack and key indicators of water levels at Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, what you hear about this high pressure front looming over the state deflecting the wet weather to other parts of the country. All of that is greatly affecting our ability to get rain here.”
“I personally can’t remember such dry conditions in all my life,” he added.