Potential debris from wildfire raises watershed contamination concerns in southern Utah

Posted at 7:47 PM, Sep 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-09 21:47:58-04

LEEDS, Utah – The Oak Grove Fire continued to burn it’s way through the Pine Valley area in southern Utah Wednesday. Hot shot crews and helicopters joined the fight, which has turned to an effort to save a precious Southern Utah resource: the watershed.

The hillside is a primary water collector for Quail Creek Reservoir, the main storage for municipal water fed throughout the St. George metro area. U.S. Forest Service fire information officer Marcia Gilles said that makes it an important area to protect.

“The objective is to contain this fire as small as possible,” Gilles said. “There are several municipal watershed areas in the Pine Valley Area that feed our local communities.”

It’s a concern shared by the Washington County Water Conservancy District. General Manager Ron Thompson said they’ve seen the effect a massive burn can have on the water supply. Ash flushed off the hill can contaminate storage in the reservoir.

“It has all kinds of impacts, both in our reservoirs and stream into the river habitat,” Thompson said.

Already, water district managers are planning for the inevitable debris flow. There are procedures in place to switch the water draw from Quail Creek to Sand Hollow Reservoir should the supply become contaminated.

Containment of the Oak Grove fire is still 0 percent. Gilles said the difficulty facing crews is the terrain. The hot shot crews are preparing to hike to the fire and begin digging a containment line.