Fires Cause Ongoing Challenges For Water Systems

Dec 15, 2020

This fall’s wildfires in Oregon have caused ongoing challenges for municipal water systems.

Water managers outlined those issues during a hearing Tuesday of the Oregon House Interim Committee on Water. Some infrastructure was damaged by the flames themselves, although work to repair and replace equipment began before the fires were completely contained. 

Workers inspect fire damage at the Panther Creek Water District near Otis, which was in the path of the Echo Mountain Complex Fire.
Credit Oregon Water Utility Council

But the long-term impact to watersheds is an ongoing concern. Josh Seeds of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said increased sediment run-off in burn zones could cause long-term headaches that will increase expenses.

“It’s going to take a lot more staff time to manage the changes to water quality," he said. "A lot of these systems can kind of run on auto-pilot normally, and they won’t be able to.”

Water managers will also on the lookout for increased harmful algae blooms next summer. Reduced shade along river banks could lead to higher water temperatures, which allows algae to grow more rapidly.

According to a report from a task force made up of representatives from Oregon DEQ, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the public water systems at highest risk for negative impacts following the 2020 wildfires are:

Detroit

Gates

Lyons-Mehama

Stayton

Panther Creek Water District (Otis)

Estacada

Molalla

Glide

Rosebug