San Francisco's Strategy To Save Water Supply From Wildfire
By Sara Jerome
A major wildfire ravaging the San Francisco area appeared to threaten the city's water supply early in the week.
But officials said Tuesday that the so-called "Yosemite Fire," named for its path through the national park, is not currently placing those reserves in danger, according to San Francisco Chronicle.
The fire is the seventh-largest in California's history, covering 280 square miles, the report said. Nearly 3,800 fire fighters are working to control the problem, and officials said the cost has risen to $27 million.
For now, the water supply appears to be out of danger. How did the city achieve this and what can other municipalities learn from San Francisco's crisis management?
For starters, utility officials sprang into action as the situation worsened, moving some of the city's water.
Officials "monitored the clarity of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and used a massive new $4.6 billion gravity-operated pipeline system to move water quickly to reservoirs closer to the big city," the Washington Post reported.
“We’re taking advantage that the water we’re receiving is still of good quality,” Harlan Kelly Jr., general manager of the city’s Public Utilities Commission, said in the Post. “We’re bringing down as much water as possible and replenishing all of the local reservoirs.”
The Hetch Hetchy provides water to 2.6 million people in the San Francisco area. Utility officials also said the city has a six-month supply of water in reservoirs near the Bay Area, according to the report.
The city also dedicated fire fighters to water safety. Some fire fighters were directed to protect hydroelectric transmission lines and other utility facilities, the Post reported.
To protect these fire fighters from live wires, the city shut down power generation at the reservoir, the report noted. San Francisco is "buying replacement power from other sources to run City Hall and other municipal buildings," according to the newspaper.
Officials said in the San Francisco Chronicle that the water is safe to drink.
So far, the ash falling into the Hetch Hetchy "has not sunk as far as the intake valves," the Post reported. Utility officials explained that "the ash is non-toxic but that the city will begin filtering water for customers if problems are detected." That could drive costs up higher.
Officials added that backup reservoirs can be tapped if the situation changes.
The water sector is not out of the woods. The fire could complicate matters well into the winter.
"On Tuesday the fire moved into the watershed, which increases the chances of sediment runoff this winter," the Weather Channel reported.