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Detroit’s water system still a work in progress after 2020 wildfires – Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon 2021-10-06 20:05:23 –

Detroit, Oregon (KOIN) — In October, smoke is still floating above Detroit as the Bull Complex fire burns 12 miles northeast of the city. The proximity is anxious for some Detroit residents who lost everything when the wildfire consumed most of the town in 2020.

“You will experience something as dramatic as this, something like that will strain you,” said Detroit Mayor Jim Trett.

More than a year after the Beach Creek and Lions Head fires burned the Santiam Canyon, Detroit is in the process of being rebuilt. Housing is under construction, and the mayor and city authorities are working to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, including the city’s drinking water system.

According to Torret, the fire destroyed the building protecting the treatment facility and the drinking water reservoir.

For months, Trett said the county had people bring in trucks filled with drinking water to fill their personal containers, and people were buying bottled water cases. Ultimately, the city needed better options.

The photo shows the remains of a drinking water reservoir in Detroit. A wildfire burned a wooden building in September 2020, making it unusable. Taken on October 4, 2021. (KOIN)

With a $ 1 million grant from the USDA, the city purchased a temporary membrane filtration system. The system was installed in March.

Initially, there was concern that the rest of the town might not be able to supply enough water. It can only process 70 gallons per day. However, Trett was pleased to say that he had survived the hottest month of the year.

“On the weekend of July 4, we were a little nervous about how much water was available, but we got through it and it’s working very well,” he said.

The temporary filtration system, now called “Phase 1”, will be part of the city’s permanent processing facility. Mr. Torret said it was just the beginning of a multi-million dollar project to replace a destroyed system. He expects this to be completed in 18 months.

He said that engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are still trying to determine the exact cost, but between the large grants the city received from FEMA and the money from the state, the payer funded the project. He said he believes he will not see an increase to offer.

The new water supply facility will include a reservoir that stores over 500,000 gallons of water. This is a significant upgrade from the previous storage of less than 200,000 gallons. The treatment operation also includes an improved membrane filter to purify the contaminated water flowing into the system.

The two sources of drinking water in Detroit, the Breitenbush River and McKee Creek, were both contaminated as a result of the fire.

According to Trett, it is possible to filter water to drinking levels, but it requires a better filtration system than the city’s previous sand filters.

One of the good news, according to Trett, is that the city’s groundwater main pipes, which were mostly replaced in 2019 and 2020, were not damaged by the fire.

Kevin Bladeon, an associate professor of forest water literature at Oregon State University’s Faculty of Forest Engineering and Resource Management, has been studying how wildfires affect raw water for the past two decades.

He explained that when a forest fire burns a forest, it builds up deposits on the floor and loses its canopy, making it easier for it to flow into streams and rivers when it rains. This deposit is different from the organic matter that normally flows into water because it breaks down into carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium components. All of these can be toxic when ingested.

He said these pollutants could remain in the water source for 10 to 15 years after the fire.

With the increasing intensity of fires in recent years, researchers have seen significant changes in the quality of water sources, Bradon said.

“These high-severity fires show an increase in these pollutants on the order of thousands of times. Yes, the higher the severity, the higher the composition and the longer the duration,” he said. Said.

Bradon and a team of OSU researchers are participating in a four-year project to study the effects of the 2020 wildfire in the Santiam Gorge. They study post-fire management treatments such as salvage logging and reforestation methods. They also study ways to reduce pollutants that enter water.

Erica Fisher, a colleague of Bradon, an assistant professor of civil engineering at OSU, has studied the impact of wildfires on urban water infrastructure.

She has seen California’s paradise and the city of Santa Rosa. In paradise, the city is addressing the issue of pollutants entering water from within the city’s water distribution system rather than from water sources. She said volatile organic compounds such as benzene or VOCs were found in the system.

Scientists assume that these VOCs came from the lateral pipes of the water crew. These are the small pipes that connect the house to the water mains. They suspect that they either released VOCs when the pipes got too hot, or brought them in through an exposed opening when the house burned.

Some of Detroit’s residential sidings are VOC-positive, and the city is currently removing them, Torrett said. He said they continue to test and flush the line, but VOCs have not affected the city’s entire distribution system.

Detroit’s “Phase 1” (formerly a temporary water treatment system) is housed in this building near the former reservoir. Taken on October 4, 2021. (KOIN)

Service lateral pipes can be the source of pollution, but Fisher doesn’t think much about how cities can make their infrastructure more fire-resistant, instead to prevent fires from spreading to city boundaries. He said he is focusing on how to do a better job overall.

“To reduce the flammability of our community, we need to reduce the intensity of wildfires adjacent to our community at the same time,” she said.

Regarding the improvement in Detroit, Mr. Trett said he feels the city is making great strides. He said the Detroit Lake area is so much loved by people from Eugene to Portland that he feels it is well-supported by its comeback.

The new water system will be an important part of recovery.

“Like Detroit, it’s back. It will be a little better than before,” he said.

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