DDW works with water-system operators and public-health officials when contaminants threaten drinking-water systems or sources. This spring and summer, DDW provided technical, engineering, and public-health advice when floods, fires, and E. coli contamination jeopardized drinking water supplies.
Drinking water contamination can occur when:
- Harmful bacteria enter the water
- Accidents, power outages, or heavy water use for firefighting reduce water pressure
- Water mains break
- Floods wash out drinking water sources and compromise infrastructure
- Fires damage water/wastewater infrastructure
DDW helps water systems develop and implement emergency response plans when service interruption, cross-contamination, or natural disasters contaminate drinking water. The Division also offers boil-advisory guidelines to protect public health when drinking water is contaminated.
Dry conditions across the state led to summer wildfires that destroyed structures, forced evacuations, and threatened drinking-water infrastructure in a number of locations. About half of the water supply in the Southwest comes from water sources in forests, posing a threat to drinking water for local residents. Burn areas are more prone to erosion, which increases the downstream accumulation of sediment in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and the susceptibility of these areas to flooding. DDW engineers respond quickly to these threats, coordinating efforts with multiple state and federal agencies to bring water systems back online.
The Trail Mountain Fire
The Trail Mountain Fire in Emery County began June 6, 2018, when a prescribed burn got out of control and jumped across Cottonwood Canyon Road. High winds and dry conditions the fire to burn more than 18,000 acres. The fire threatened drinking-water infrastructure for several water systems, including the North Emery Water Users Special Service District and the Castle Valley Special Service District, among others.
DDW staff worked with the Division of Emergency Management to monitor the impacts of the fire on drinking water. DDW and DEQ provided support by inspecting and assessing damage to drinking-water infrastructure and discussing potential solutions to repair the damage, including financial-assistance options.
Dollar Ridge Fire
The Dollar Ridge Fire caused extensive property damage and threatened several small water systems. While the 68,000-acre wildfire didn’t directly cause damage to water systems, a flash flood after the fire damaged a drinking-water pipeline in the Pinnacle Homeowners water system and caused a temporary loss of power and access to the area. A broken water line and other flood damages prompted the Camelot Resort to close for the remainder of the year.
During the fire, DDW’s Pete Keers and Ryan Dearing monitored the fire situation continuously. When it appeared the fire was heading toward Pinnacles Homeowners Association, Ryan contacted them to determine their situation and options. Pinnacles is a small system, with only one spring and a wet well as a drinking-water source. After the fire, the power went out several times, essentially shutting down the water system.
District Engineer Nathan Hall went out with the operator to assess the damage once residents were allowed back in. Surprisingly little damage was caused by the fire itself, but two flash floods and debris flows cut power service again and damaged a drinking water pipeline. The system was put on a boil order. DDW provided technical assistance to the operator, who was having trouble maintaining chlorine levels in the system since usage was so low, with most of the cabins damaged and the residents evacuated. DDW also contacted a number of other water systems in the area during the fire and updated the Division of Emergency Management incident management system with this information.
Pole Creek/Bald Mountain Fire
The Pole Creek/Bald Mountain Fire resulted in impacts to several water systems. The Crab Canyon Springs in Spanish Fork were overrun by fire, and Spanish Fork City contacted DDW for advice. Firld-service staff recommended that the city turn out the spring and clear out and woody vegetation from the collection area. The City only had time to turn out the spring before the fire hit. Luckily, there was no damage to the spring boxes, but there was extensive damage to the watershed and recharge area above the springs.
Woodland Hills also contacted DDW for guidance. Its only water source, a well it shares with Salem, was in danger of being taken out by the fire. The town also requested an emergency operating permit for its Broad Hollow well in the event that the only other source was damaged by the fire as well as a request for emergency generators through the UTWARN system. Luckily, the original well was not damaged and the new well was not needed.
Other systems (Payson, Elk Ridge, Salem, Eagle’s landing, and several campgrounds) also had sources near the fire.
Success Story: Price Water Main Break
A large water main break in unincorporated Carbon County left some residents either without water or low water pressure. Wellington City and Carbon County declared a state of emergency, saying the break “affected public safety, culinary drinking water, utilities, (and) public and private facilities. The main line break near U.S. 6 northwest of Prices was preceded by two smaller line breaks south of Price.
District Engineer Scott Hacking led the DEQ response to the water main break. Hacking and the local health department (LHD) took water samples above and below the fire truck interconnections. Carbon County requested help with installation of a new fire hydrant to make a third interconnection, as all their crews were busy with the water break. DEQ and DDW helped facilitate needed resoures, including assistance with locating a construction crew, so the system could get back into service quickly.
Success Story: DDW Keeps the (Safe) Drinking-Water Flowing
DDW scientists provide guidance to drinking water systems during sanitary surveys.
Drinking water comes from a variety of sources — springs, wells, lakes, or rivers. While water sources require different types of treatment, they also have to meet the same regulations. Utah has nearly 800 water systems that serve 500 people or less, and these small drinking-water systems draw from a variety of different sources under a variety of different conditions.
Last winter, a small Southern Utah drinking-water company discovered it was out of compliance with state drinking-water rules. The local sheriff served the company with a notice of violation at 1 p.m. on a Friday afternoon after health inspectors found issues that prevented the system from providing clean drinking water to its customers. The violation notice meant the company had to shut down, which would have left residents without water over the weekend.
Rather than enforcing an action on the water system, DDW Director Marie Owens notified her staff of the issue and asked her team to travel to southern Utah to help the company address the violations so it could restart. Environmental scientist Michelle Deras made the trip south and met with drinking-water administrators, local health department officials, and DEQ’s District Engineer to develop a plan to bring the water system into compliance.
Deras conducted a thorough inspection of the water treatment plant to assess whether it was using the proper chemicals and treatments. The team from DEQ, the water system, and the local health department worked through the weekend to remedy issues. DDW and the local health department explained the rules, told the system what it needed to do to get back into compliance along with the issues it needed to address. DEQ continued to work with the water system to get it back into compliance as quickly as possible so it could deliver safe drinking water to its customers.