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How San Lorenzo Valley Water District is recovering from the CZU Complex fire

BOULDER CREEK, Calif. (KION) More than 900 homes were destroyed and in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire last year that tore through 86-thousand acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. On Wednesday, KION was able to take a tour of the San Lorenzo Water Treatment Facility to see the leftover damage to the water supply.

Annual rainfall is the main source for The San Lorenzo Valley surface water, trickling from streams located on Empire Grade Mountain. This was an area that was hit hard by last year’s fire.

"We were able to see the fire coming down to the supply line into our intakes,” Rick Rogers, District Manager for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District.

The burn scar around the treatment facility shows how close the CZU Fire was from the building, however other structures weren’t so lucky. As a result the district lost 100% of the raw water intake structures, including all three water tanks on site, which stores millions of gallons of water. In addition, approximately seven miles of above ground piping was also destroyed, after it had melted.

“We’re now trying to recover and make repairs. The district suffered about 20-million dollars in damage from the fire,” continued Rogers.

Some of the neighborhoods impacted by the fire even had a, ‘do not drink, do not boil’ advisory in place for some time before water officials deemed the water safe. Nonetheless contaminated water continues to be monitored as the water district at one point found benzene in the Riverside Grove Neighborhood water system.

“We know from past urban and forest fire environments, such as the Paradise Fire and the Camp Fire in Santa Rosa, there is potential for recontamination. Water distribution networks are you know, very dynamic systems where we can't always predict flows,” said Nate Gillespie, Supervisor, Water Treatment & Systems at San Lorenzo Valley Water District.

SLVWD has not detected negative numbers since September of 2020, but they do plan to monitor until at least December of 2022. There are plans in motion to repair and recover but it could take some time. The water district is working closely with FEMA, which covers 75% of future repairs, but a quarter remains and that might come from those living in the San Lorenzo Valley.

"25% will be covered by the district rate payers so we will have come up with the 5 million dollars the direct share and we are reaching out to our customer base on a fire related surcharge to raise that 5 million dollars over the next five years,” said Rogers.

Once that 5 million dollars is hit, the surcharge will come off customer's bills. Rate and fees are set by SLVWD Board of Directors and goes through the Proposition 218 process. The board will then hold a public hearing to address the communities questions and concerns.

While on the tour, Rodgers mentioned that most of his staff lives in the area. Unfortunately, two of his members lost their homes. KION is told, they are trained and equipped to handle disasters like the CZU Fire.

Central Coast Wildfires / Local News / Santa Cruz County / Top Stories / Video
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Erika Bratten

Erika Bratten is a weather forecaster for KION News Channel 5/46.

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