With 80-degree temperatures persisting in Santa Monica this fall, it might not seem like wet weather is around the corner.

But it’s becoming clear to scientists and climate experts that El Ni√±o is probably going to impact Southern California this winter.

Public officials are urging residents to prepare for rainstorms that could further exacerbate landscape issues following a prolonged drought across the state, but water conservationists are also encouraging people to see the potential benefits of the expected weather system.

“We’re so conditioned to not thinking of rainwater as a resource,” said Melanie Winter, director of The River Project, a nonprofit environmental conservation group. “It’s all about starting to become more aware of these things. Because this is a really great opportunity for us.”

Ahead of anticipated El Niño storms, Los Angeles County has launched a website with updates and tips for residents, businesses and communities.

The county has 470 miles of open channels, 2,400 miles of underground storm drains and 70,000 street drains, according to the public works department, but they could become inundated during major storms.

Sandbags are being made available for free throughout the county, including at fire stations in Marina Del Rey, Malibu and Topanga, as government agencies prepare for potential flooding.

Gutters and drains should be cleared of debris, officials said.

“Most people know, based on prior experience, what neighborhoods tend to flood,” Winter said. “It’s being prepared for that on steroids.”

Those preparations appear to be taking place in Santa Monica in the form of roofing repairs. The City of Santa Monica has processed 106 permits for roofing repairs since the beginning of July, a 34-percent increase on the 79 approved during the same period last year.

City and county officials are encouraging residents to develop emergency and evacuation plans with their families and monitor radio and television news outlets for flood warnings. People should know how to shut off their utilities, authorities said.

County fire officials are reminding the public not to enter areas with moving water even if someone appears in need of help. People should instead contact emergency responders.

Meanwhile, Winter said, the influx of El Ni√±o water could benefit local residents if they’re prepared to capture it with the proper landscaping and infrastructure.

Large rain tanks and infiltration trenches can help capture rainwater and slow down flows, Winter said. Homeowners and businesses can also grade their properties to retain rainwater for plants while reducing flooding.

“The more people do that, collectively, the better the runoff impact is,” she said. She added that a property “can function more like a watershed than a water slide.”

Winter said property and business owners should pay attention to where water flows on and around their land.

“Everybody needs to get engaged in managing for drought and flood,” she said.

Winter pointed to the recent mudslides on Interstate 5 as an example of the dangers of rain after a drought.

“You can extrapolate on what happens when you dry out the soil in unvegetated areas and what happens when you get hit with a big storm,” she said. “Making those connections is going to be critical to be climate-resilient.”

For more information about preparedness, call the county fire department at 323-881-2411 or the county public works department’s storm hotline at 800-980-4990. For more information about water conservation, visit www.waterLA.org.


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