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Report Calls On LADWP To Mitigate Wildfire Risk, Address Maintenance Backlog

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A new report released by the Los Angeles city controller is asking the L.A. Department of Water and Power to address hundreds of maintenance requests which could pose a wildfire risk to the region.

According to the report Wednesday from Controller Ron Galperin, the LADWP has more than 1,000 outstanding maintenance orders in state-designated wildfire-threat areas that have not yet been filled.

Getty Fire
The Getty Fire burns in the Sepulveda Pass in Los Angeles. Oct. 28, 2019. (CBS2)

"While the DWP has attempted to keep pace with maintenance needs in fire risk zones, backlogs for certain equipment remain," the report read.

The report notes that 15 percent of LADWP's service territory lies in a wildfire-threatened areas. While that is considerably less than both Southern California Edison and PG&E – both of whom have paid out tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits after their equipment was found to have sparked several recent wildfires -- it still includes 49,000 mostly wooden utility poles and 18 percent of LADWP's transmission towers and power lines.

About 30 percent of those poles are at least 65 years old, the report found.

"Consultants hired by the department estimate that the utility (LADWP) could face an average of $42 million in losses yearly for the next 100 years due to wildfires," the report reads. "There is currently no insurance fund for publicly-owned utilities to share financial risks, unlike the state fund created in July 2019 for private utilities."

California has experienced a massive spike in wildfire activity in recent years. The report found that 10 of the 20 most destructive wildfires in state history have occurred since 2015. Six of those 10 were caused by overhead power lines. Those six fires burned 649,000 acres, destroyed 23,500 structures and killed 108 people.

The devastating Getty Fire -- which broke out last month along the west side of the 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass near the Getty Center -- is believed to have accidentally sparked by a tree branch blown by winds onto a power line belonging to LADWP.

Last week, SoCal Edison reached a deal to pay $360 million to settle lawsuits brought by local governments over the 2017 Thomas Fire in Ventura County and 2018 Woolsey Fire with tore through Malibu.

In an investor filing back in February, SoCal Edison admitted that a pole support wire was found near an energized electrical wire just prior to an outage in SCE's electrical system in the area of the origin of the Woolsey Fire south of Simi Valley.

In March, officials announced that the Thomas Fire was sparked by a downed power line in Santa Paula.

In January, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in anticipation of its liability in multiple 2017 and 2018 wildfires. In February, the utility giant admitted that was it likely responsible for starting the Camp Fire which ripped through Northern California's Butte County in November 2018, destroying thousands of homes and killing dozens of people.

In response to Wednesday's report, LADWP issued a lengthy statement which reads in part:

"LADWP spent the last six months working with the City Controller's staff to discuss and share elements of the Department's Draft Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which will be presented to the Board of Water and Power Commissioners on December 10, 2019. This plan addresses and includes many of the recommendations made in the Controller's report released earlier today and builds and expands upon LADWP's successful Power System Reliability Plan (PSRP), which has invested $3.9 billion over the past five years in aggressively replacing and upgrading aging equipment across the City of Los Angeles."

To read the LADWP's full statement, click here.

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