2018 Wildfire Response

  Central Valley Water Board’s Response to 2018 Wildfires

The 2018 fire season has brought unprecedented wildfire to the Central Valley region, including the Carr Fire in Shasta County, the Mendocino Complex Fire in Lake County, and the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County. These fires are uncharacteristically large, and undoubtedly pose a risk to the beneficial uses of water resources throughout the watersheds they have affected.

The Central Valley Water Board has the responsibility and authority to ensure the protection of beneficial uses of waters within its region and has a variety of tools that can be brought to bear to reduce the impacts of wildfire on water quality. This includes our regulatory authority, policies, investigation teams, water quality monitoring and assessment teams, and technical experts. In the post-fire environment Board staff may conduct assessments or participate in multi-agency assessments like the state’s CAL FIRE led Watershed Emergency Response Team, or the federal Burned Area Emergency Response team.

A common thread among each of the 2018 fires – and many that occur annually in California – is their geography. Without question wildfire in the wildland-urban interface, or “WUI”, creates significant challenges and hardships for communities, firefighters, and many others. Responding to the aftermath of fire in the WUI also poses significant challenges to agencies charged with protecting public safety, drinking water intakes and restoring water quality and fish habitat. Acute threats to public health and the environment can come from obvious sources such as debris flows and flooding. They can also come from fertilizers, herbicides, and other chemicals that might flow into waterways, or be washed into storm water management systems. When fires burn into the WUI, these acute risks are mixed with the more chronic threats of erosion and sedimentation commonly associated with forest wildfire.

Research shows that fire affected areas in Southern California, including those in the WUI, contained increased concentrations of contaminants including nutrients (e.g. nitrates and phosphorus), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), copper, zinc, mercury, lead, and other metals. Several of these pollutants, especially metals, can be harmful to human health and toxic to aquatic life at elevated concentrations. Many pollutants absorb, or attach, to suspended particles such as sediment, and enter surface waters as runoff. High flows can transport sediment-bound pollutants to nearby waterways (gullies, canals, creeks, and rivers) and accumulate downstream in larger waterways, reservoirs, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Bay-Delta.

The Central Valley Water Board has three offices; Redding, Rancho Cordova, and Fresno. Currently the Redding office is the lead for the Board’s Carr Fire response activities, the Rancho Cordova office is the lead for the Mendocino Complex Fires, and the Fresno office is the lead for the Ferguson Fire response activities. Questions regarding the Board’s response to a specific wildfire within the Central Valley region should be directed to the respective office.

Contact Information

For questions about each fire please contact: