Water district refuses test

The La Cañada Irrigation District is in hot water with a local resident over its refusal to offer flow tests that provide pressure data.

Because of a state fire code change at the start of the year, John Caire, a Lombardy Drive property owner, needs a water availability statement for the fire hydrants near his home in order to get a building permit for a proposed remodel. This data is typically obtained through a fire flow test, in which an engineer opens up a hydrant and uses a flow meter to measure the rate and pressure of the water available.

La Cañada Irrigation, one of the local water agencies under the umbrella of the Foothill Municipal Water District, will provide the statement to Caire, but won’t perform a fire flow test on its hydrants, claiming that their knowledge of the system is sufficient to guarantee that the hydrants meet minimum flow requirements set by the state.

Doug Caister, manager of La Cañada Irrigation, said that his engineers don’t need to perform a flow test to accurately provide a water availability statement.

“We know our system, we know the hydraulics of our system, it’s an engineered system,” Caister said, adding that performing fire flow tests is costly, wastes water and puts undue stress on the district’s pipe system.

But La Cañada Irrigation, whose service area extends north of Foothill Boulevard between Ocean View and Commonwealth, is the only one of the FMWD’s water management districts serving La Cañada that refuses to offer flow tests. Crescenta Valley Water District offers them for a fee of $300, Mesa Crest Water Company for $250, and Valley Water Company for $50.

Bill Niccum, assistant fire chief for Division III of the L.A. County Fire Department, said that the new regulations were set by the state fire marshal’s office. The regulations, which went into effect on Jan. 1, mandate that all new homes or homes that undergo rebuilding have a fire sprinkler system.

In order for this sprinkler system to meet code, it must draw from a fire hydrant that is able to put out 1,250 gallons of water a minute at a pressure rating of 20 psi if the home’s floor space is less than 3,600 square feet. If the home exceeds that size, as Caire’s does, it must be able to draw upon 1,750 gallons a minute at 20 psi.

Caister said that the last fire flow test La Cañada Irrigation performed was in 2008, and that even after the state regulations changed at the start of the year, they had not received any complaints until now.

“Houses are being built all over La Cañada in our system. We’ve provided them with a water availability statement,” said Caister.

Robert Stanley of the city’s planning department said that while building permits are being issued, this requirement has been an obstacle for several projects.

“I do know that they’ve held up some projects because of the fire department requirements,” said Stanley.

In the end, Caire might be able to obtain his building permit without the fire flow test by having the district use the two hydrants nearest his home in their water availability calculations, but he said the district should still offer the test.

“In my case I’m lucky, I have two fire hydrants,” said Caire. “Somebody else could definitely be getting stuck.”

As long as the water availability forms are being filled out, however, Caister isn’t worried about it.

“Only the people that are complaining about it consider it an issue,” Caister said. “We know our system.”

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