Kenwood Water Company supply issues examined
Seldom do things go as expected during extreme emergencies, and October’s wildfires proved no exception, as the power supply to Kenwood Village Water Company’s (KVWC) two wells failed an hour into the firestorm on Sunday night, Oct. 8. Water company operators got to the pump house and switched over to the 212,000-gallon reserve tank at the end of Green Street, but the two Sonoma Aqueduct backup switches could not be accessed until Tuesday, Oct. 10.
“We need to work out policies for future emergencies,” Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach said. Bellach was scheduled to meet with KVWC owner and president Jim Downey on Nov. 30, after this paper’s deadline.
“We know that people experienced low pressure and thought they were out,” Downey said. “But we never did lose water in the system.” The switch to a gravity-fed supply dropped the water pressure from the normal 40 pounds per square inch (psi) to 30 psi, according to Downey.
Jim Perry saved the Treehaven Court home his father built, using water from hoses at all four corners of the structure, working for many hours after the water system well pumps lost power. An accomplished machinist, Perry was in a deep sleep when the smoke and noise finally woke him up, long after the entire neighborhood was evacuated. Stubborn by nature and competent by training, Perry tackled the fire head on, using shovels and hoses all night long.
“I had water all night long,” Perry recalled, “though there was not a lot of pressure.” He also remembered losing water pressure for a while later Monday morning. “I was freaked out – what if something flared up?”
While he saved the main house, Perry did lose two ancillary buildings containing tools and building materials.
The Sonoma Aqueduct provides water from the Russian River and Lake Sonoma to the City of Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon Water District, with a few private taps along the way. The aqueduct is seldom tapped due to the much higher cost per acre-foot, but it is there precisely for emergency situations.
Downey sent a letter to all KVWC customers on Oct. 19, explaining that the on-duty operators could not switch to the backup system. Both the Turtle Creek and Warm Springs Road switches were surrounded by raging fires and too dangerous for anyone but trained fire personnel to approach, according to Fire Chief Bellach.
The backup diversions were finally activated on Tuesday, Oct. 10, at about 1 p.m., according to Downey.
An administrative error caused a state agency to issue “Do Not Drink” notices to customers, but the paperwork was eventually straightened out. Laboratory analyses done on time were not reviewed immediately, resulting in some confusion. The results were good, but the order from the Division of Drinking Water of the State Water Resources Control Board was not rescinded for over a week.
“At all times during this difficult period the water supplied from the KVWC water distribution system to our customers has been properly treated and is potable,” Downey said in his Oct. 19 letter.