While the gigantic wildfire that burned 402 square miles in the Sierra Nevada has been contained, the Rim Fire is still burning through resources. For the Turlock Irrigation District, and the thousands of irrigation customers who depend on water from Don Pedro Reservoir, the only fact known at this time is that there will be consequences.
“From a fire response perspective, the emergency does not end once the smoke is gone,” said TID Water Resources analyst Jason Carkeet in his update to the Board of Directors on Tuesday.
Carkeet said that TID is currently in the “burned area and emergency response” phase. The focus is on preventing life, property, and cultural and natural resources from immediate threats. This entails maintaining roads so that they are passable for emergency personnel and landowners and closing roads that are deemed hazardous.
Soil burn has occurred, which from a surface perspective, is ashy on top and indicates cooked soil. Cooked soil creates hydrophobic soil conditions which repel water. This has an effect on the magnitude of the runoff and the proportion of the high burn severity could increase yearly runoff. Due to the high altitude of soil burned areas, it is hard to ascertain the exact effects to Don Pedro, such as the amount of silt that may wash down.
“These areas have been examined by soil and geology experts. Looking at their data, we expect that a lot of that material will settle out along the rivers and to some degree we will see silt and debris in Don Pedro,” said Carkeet.
Wind debris is driven by storms and the District will be monitoring the weather and preparing for what could come at any time, said Carkeet.
A high intensity storm would increase runoff and bring more debris material coming into Don Pedro at one time. Moderate storms or frequent low intensity storms would keep soil in place and encourage vegetative growth.
The long term restoration process has begun through the U.S. National Forest Service, this action is delayed due to the government shutdown.
The District is anticipating receiving assistance through the California Disaster Assistance Act and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.