Fire and water agencies seek improved communication
One of the first things to go after the Oct. 8 wildfire broke out was the power – an early victim of the 80-mph gusts that blew down power lines and trees and set the stage for the devastating burn that quickly followed. At 11:30 p.m. the power was lost in the general area, including the power that keeps Kenwood Village Water Company’s (KVWC) two groundwater wells pumping. These wells are the principal supply for the entire village.
Two issues have emerged from that power loss: it took a day and a half to switch over to the back up water supply from the Sonoma Aqueduct, and there was no portable generator to bring to the pumps.
Both Fire Chief Daren Bellach and KVWC President/Owner Jim Downey acknowledge the issues and have begun discussions to come up with improved approaches.
“We didn’t talk about what happened or whose fault it was,” Bellach said. “We threw out some points about what to do in the future. Our attorney is drawing up draft Standard Operating Procedure, but nothing is firm until all parties agree.”
According to Downey, his customers never lost water, although the pressure dropped when the supply was switched over to gravity feed from the 212,000-gallon elevated tank on the Geib property beyond the end of Greene Street. The bolted steel reserve tank is served by an iron pipe connection to the water system and no one else uses it.
“With respect to the tank on Greene Street, the operators who finally got in there on Tuesday mid-day, turned on Sonoma Aqueduct and checked the status of the tank,” Downey said. “It had water above the outlet in the tank. In our view, the system was never without treated water, but had less pressure than people were used to.”
Other people reported losing all water on Monday, but at least one customer continued to use the water supply to save his house on Treehaven Lane long after the power went out.
Downey said two longtime employees made it out to Kenwood in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 9. They checked the well pump house and determined the backup system was working, but found the fire was raging around both taps to the Sonoma Aqueduct.
“They saw the Treehaven fires, going up the hill, but had no idea of the tank status,” Downey said. “They couldn’t get by,” he noted, concerning access to the Sonoma Aqueduct valves.
“We showed up again the next day (Monday), and again couldn’t get in. The people manning the checkpoints would not let anyone through.
“The problem here was we all should have had a sequence of phone numbers to call to make sure our operators could get in,” Downey said. “The people at checkpoints were out of area and didn’t know.”
“We want to establish some operating procedures that will allow us to help the water company if they can’t get to Kenwood to do what they have to do,” Bellach said.
KVWC operators tapped the aqueduct by Tuesday, Oct. 10, at about 1 p.m.
There are no state or local regulations requiring water companies to have portable backup generators, according to Janice Thomas of the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water.
“We make sure (the water) is safe to drink, and require that the operator maintain 20 pounds of pressure at all times, but don’t require it in regulations,” Thomas said, referring to emergency generators. The state inspects water systems like Kenwood’s every three years.
She did say that tapping into the aqueduct would require a certified state distribution operator. Both of KVWC’s operators are certified.
Downey acknowledged that a portable generator would be useful. “It’s a good idea and we’ll be looking into it.” He said KVWC has made “significant capital improvement” outlays for the Kenwood system in the past two years.
“Once we draw something up, and it is approved by the water company and fire department, we’ll let the public know,” Bellach said.