News Feature | December 19, 2017

California Wildfires Imperil Water Services

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


As Southern California endures intense wildfires this month, water systems have been threatened.

A combination of high winds and dry conditions left much of the Los Angeles area ablaze, forcing at least 50,000 people to evacuate and destroying nearly 1,000 structures and over 240,000 acres of land, according to Fox News. As always in these types of emergencies, water services have had to remain resilient as fires bring contaminants into their supplies and disrupt treatment operations.

“Residents of some parts of Ventura and Ojai remained under an order to boil drinking water because of the potential for contamination due to the outages in the Thomas Fire area,” SCPR reported.

SCPR also reported that a local water treatment plant lost power and that the district’s supplies were not being treated as a result. Additionally, because so much water is needed for firefighting efforts, water systems have had to deal with the fallout of low pressure.

“In the Casitas Municipal Water District serving Ojai and parts of Ventura, firefighting consumed so much water that big tanks were left nearly empty. The resulting low water pressure created other problems in the system,” per SCPR. “Two of Castas’ water tanks ran low, and the resulting low pressure causes water to stall in the lines opening the possibility that dirt or other substances surrounding water lines could seep through cracks in pipes into water.”

The water supplies became so overstressed that at one point, firefighters were unable to access it through hydrants.

“Some hydrants couldn’t get water pumped to them because there was no power,” reported the Los Angeles Times. “At one point in Ojai, the entire water system went down, including hydrants and drinking water, because a pumping system was damaged by the fire.”

As emergency responders and water treatment personnel continued to work diligently late last week, questions still swirled about how badly the wildfires would damage central services like water treatment.

To read more about how utilities deal with emergencies visit Water Online’s Resiliency Solutions Center.

Image credit: “Wildfire," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region, 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: