By Peter Chawaga
In the wake of raging wildfires in Hawaii, U.S. officials are warning consumers to heed the limits of at-home water filters.
“People in torched areas of Maui should not try to filter their own drinking water because there is no ‘way to make it safe,’ Maui County posted,” according to the Associated Press. “Brita filters, devices connected to refrigerators or sinks and even robust, whole-home systems are unlikely to address the ‘extreme contamination’ that can happen after a fire.”
Wildfires, which are becoming increasingly common as the climate warms up, pose unique challenges to drinking water safety. As consumers in Hawaii struggle to find shelter and emergency response measures are taken, the Hawaii Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network is working to assess how evolving drinking water and wastewater needs can be addressed.
In the meantime, officials hope to make it clear that at-home filters won’t be enough to compensate for the toll being taken on buried infrastructure.
“The Maui fires damaged hundreds of drinking water pipes, resulting in a loss of pressure that can allow toxic chemicals along with metals and bacteria into water lines,” AP reported. “For now, the county has told people to use bottled water for all their needs or to fill jugs at tankers called water buffalos, which have been brought in near the burns.”
The timeline for restoring drinking water and wastewater service in Maui is still undetermined as of this writing, but it’s clear that bottled water will be needed for the foreseeable future. As industry professionals know, delivering clean drinking water is a remarkably complex process and returning to normalcy after a disaster like this won’t be easy.
“Restoring the Maui water supply involves repeatedly conducting testing at various sites, flushing the water system, isolating the uncontaminated water sources and replacing damaged and compromised water pipes,” per Honolulu Magazine. “A complete restoration of an area’s water system can take anywhere from months to years, depending on the scale of damage. During the 2018 wildfire in the Northern California town of Paradise, 18,000 homes were destroyed and 173 miles of water pipes were compromised. It took years for the water system to be restored.”
To read more about how drinking water systems manage their infrastructure, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Distribution Solutions Center.