Rain Brings Toxic Risk, Erosion To Wine Country Scorched By Wildfires

By Susie Steimle

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) – There are new concerns in Santa Rosa that rain will bring the risk of toxic runoff.

Jeffrey Madura lost his home in the fires and said the rain also brings hope and rebirth.

He’s next in line for debris removal, and did a final sweep today for valuables among the ashes.

KPIX 5 toured the plot where Madura’s home of 22 years used to be.

After last week’s rain he’s already seeing some regrowth, but he knows his neighborhood isn’t out of the woods for the upcoming rainy season.

“I’m worried about later – maybe the heavier rains – with flooding and things like that in some of the Fountaingrove area and some of the hills,” Madura said.

Earlier this week city workers put waddles in place around storm drains. These long socks are filled with straw are meant to keep debris out of the watershed.

Rita Miller with the Santa Rosa Water Department said, “We’re concerned about water quality, we’re concerned about increased risk of flooding, we’re concerned about potential debris flow that could wash into our culverts.”

Miller is a member of the newly formed Watershed Task Force, a group of more than a dozen city and county officials tracking the rain and hoping to mitigate environmental impact.

It’s a balancing act to keep debris out of the drains, while still allowing them to do their job, so streets don’t flood.

Places like Coffey Park are especially at risk because the vegetation and soil usually soak up some of the rain preventing flash flooding, but so much vegetation was destroyed in the fire.

“We’re asking the public to keep an eye on the creeks. The water levels might rise quicker than they have in normal rains before the fire,” Miller said.

Miller says it could be a long winter for the burn areas.

“We’re going to keep an eye on both Coffey Park and Fountaingrove because we’ve put in place storm drain protective measures,” Miller said. “We want to make sure the debris is not blocking the system.”

Erosion control mechanisms will be put in place, but the rain is not expected to slow down the debris removal process.

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