Aug 20, 2018

Carr Fire Threatens Northern California Water Quality

The fires taxed water treatment plants and ash-tainted water quality becomes a concern

California wildfires threaten water quality
California wildfires threaten water quality

As the Carr Fire nears containment, water quality has become a concern in Northern California along the Sacramento River and its tributaries. Officials from the California State Water Resources Control Board and Cal Fire are monitoring water quality because ash, sediment and heavy metals carried by storm water runoff are a risk. Furthermore, officials are assessing the watersheds to determine the best erosion control response, as mudslides have become a concern on the fire-charred land.

During the wildfire, water treatment plants struggled to meet increased demand from firefighters while coping with leaks caused by damaged water infrastructure. According to Record Searchlight, treatment plants struggled to retain water pressure, lost power, and some could not disinfect or filter water to meet the firefighting demand.

As the fire dwindles, metals such as copper, cadmium and lead are expected to spike in waterways.

“A lot of those metals and chemicals that are out there as a result of human activity will absorb (into the soil,” said Clint Snyder, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. “When you’re transporting sediment, there’s a high likelihood you’re also transporting chemicals.”

This impacts drinking water quality and threatens the endangered salmon population in the Sacramento River and is tributaries. Pending assessments from Cal Fire and federal agencies, recommendations for protecting water quality could include installing straw wattles, planting a slurry of seed, placing floating barriers to catch sediment or releasing water from reservoirs.

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