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Experts Discuss Wildfire Mitigation Efforts at Water Agencies Conference

News Channel 3-November 29, 2023

By Jennifer Franco

The Association of California water Agencies (ACWA) kicked off its two-day 2023 Fall Conference and Expo at the Renaissance Esmeralda and Hyatt Regency in Indian Wells today.

The event brought together local water agency leaders from throughout California for updates, analyses, and perspectives on multiple water-related issues affecting every part of the state.

Wildfire preparedness was the focus of one panel discussion, which highlighted the importance of access to funding for local communities.

"When we talk about food, when we talk about housing, when we talk about water -- wildfire is one of those common threads," according to California State Senator Marie Alvarado-Gil.

Alvarado-Gil represents 13 counties, many of which have been impacted by divesting wildfires throughout the years.

She previously sponsored State Bill 470, which made it the Governor Gavin Newsom's desk, but was not signed into law. The bill would have authorized funding for benefits in addition to drought relief, including, among other projects, projects that reduce the risk of wildfire for entire neighborhoods and communities through water delivery system improvements for fire suppression purposes in high fire hazard severity zone communities or very high fire hazard severity zone communities.

Alvarado-Gil's fight for SB470 to become law is not over. "This next year, my job is to help educate the governor and his administration on why its important and to also hear that feedback, because ultimately it's a collaborative bill. I want to make sure the language is right and I'm encouraged by positive policy," said Alvarado-Gil.

She believes that resources at the local level are imperative to the success of wildfire mitigation statewide. "If we do not allow resources to be built at the local level, then we fall victim to one-size fits all policy and we know that that does not work for California. We are a diverse state with a lot of different ecosystems," according to Alvarado-Gil.

Water district officials across California also play a vital role in wildfire mitigation. Several speakers at the conference discussed ways that water agencies can implement plans to help do their part.

Kevin Phillips, Director of Member Outreach for the Association of California Water Agencies and California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, was previously the town manager for Paradise, which was nearly entirely destroyed by the Camp Fire in 2018, was among those speakers.

"We went on a task to try to figure out why the insurance companies are not making the connection between mitigation, that was going on throughout the whole town. We had trees that were taken down and we had all of the hazardous fuels reduced, but they were still not making that connection," according to Phillips.