Opinion: Wildfires threaten our water supply; plastics make the threat even more serious | SteamboatToday.com

2021-12-06 16:27:27 By : Ms. Rita Lee

Wildfires are an unfortunate fact of life in Colorado. As the past few seasons have shown, threats seem more likely to increase rather than fade in the next few years. When we consider this threat, we must clearly understand the full scope of our country.

The destruction, destruction and distress caused by wildfires that can burn up to 100,000 or even 200,000 acres at a time can hardly be exaggerated. During last year's particularly brutal wildfire season, the cost of extinguishing fires alone exceeded 200 million U.S. dollars, and thousands of Colorados were displaced due to evacuations or loss of their homes. Sadly, some people even lost their lives.

No matter how thorough our land and forest management are, wildfires will always pose a threat. As the fire chief of a rural voluntary fire brigade, I am very proud of the dangerous but beneficial work done by the Colorado fire brigade to ensure the safety of our community in the face of this reality. I am also keenly aware of the less obvious threats related to wildfires.

For example, wildfires cause severe damage to water supplies in both short and long term. We must keep this serious risk in mind when considering how to protect the infrastructure that meets the basic human needs.

Power outages may take water treatment facilities offline. Fire can make the facility inaccessible. On the one hand, runoff from burning areas contains ash, which can cause long-term changes in the chemical properties of lakes, wetlands and reservoirs. Changes in snowmelt will disrupt the balance of the reservoir.

Cheaper, weaker pipes that cannot withstand the pressure can rupture, causing contaminants in the soil to seep into the water supply system. When the plastic parts of the water system (such as meters and valves) burn and melt, they will burn and melt quickly, and harmful chemicals will enter the water. Short-term exposure to such substances can cause symptoms such as dizziness, while long-term exposure to such substances can cause more serious diseases, such as anemia and even leukemia.

Considering that some utility companies in fire-prone areas have recently taken action to replace standard water pipes with PVC and other plastic pipes, the pollution caused by burning plastic is particularly worrying.

As my years of first-hand experience as a firefighter have proven, water pipes that cannot withstand harsh conditions can be counterproductive when they cannot deliver water immediately. When wildfires are raging, plastic-based water pipes cannot guarantee protection from high temperatures.

Melted PVC pipes will not only interrupt service. It releases chemicals into the water supply system. Two wildfires in California in 2017 and 2018 both led to the first record and confirmation of drinking water pollution after wildfires. Although other factors may contribute, researchers at Purdue University studied these fires-the Tubbs fire and the Camp fire-and found that in both cases where benzene contaminated the water supply system, the local water supply infrastructure was present. Plastic pipes.

Firefighters will continue their efforts to protect Colorados from wildfires. When they attack, we will contain them there. At the same time, it is important that we consider the full range of impacts these fires may have on our communities and incorporate these impacts into our planning methods today and in the future.

I hope both parties can solve this problem together. In Colorado, liberal Morgan Carroll and conservative Steve King saw demand and worked hard to provide aerial tankers to extinguish forest fires. We now need to carry out this kind of cooperation on the use of PVC pipes.

We can continue to develop on the basis of the long overdue modernization of forest management practices promoted by President Donald Trump before he left office. President Trump understands that, like everyone involved in protecting the public, correct forest management practices are the main factor in the scourge of forest fires that our state and country have faced in recent years. Proper forest management practices include not using pipes that can melt. This is just common sense.

I hope that our legislators will agree that the materials used to update our water supply systems and other critical infrastructures are safe, resilient and future-proof. PVC or plastic pipes may be flexible and can be used for certain use cases, but facing the increasing threat of wildfires, PVC is not the right choice for our water supply.

Brita Horn is the fire chief of a rural voluntary fire department in Colorado, the former Roth County treasurer, and the author of the book "Drinking Water from Fire Hose: Five Essential Tools to Avoid Soaking in Water."

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