(Sutter Creek)  Fire fighters used high-pressure gravity-fed pipelines in the Amador County upcountry to fight the Butte Fire during widespread power outages that disabled Amador Water Agency water facilities throughout the area.


High volume hydrants on the Amador Transmission Line (ATL), the major gravity pipeline that runs from Lake Tabeau to AWA’s water treatment plant on Ridge Road, provided water to fire fighters even as the fire raged all around the pipeline intake above the Mokelumne River canyon.


The ATL carries water that previously ran down the open ditch Amador Canal, which winds through forest and heavy brush. The high-pressure pipeline, completed in 2007, takes a more direct route and hydrants are located on roadways where fire crews can easily access them.


New hydrants on the Gravity Supply Line (GSL) were made available for fire fighters on the Butte Fire. The GSL, still under construction, is being built to flow Mokelumne River water downhill to the water treatment plant that supplies upcountry homes.


Amador Water Agency crews learned from PG&E operators on Saturday of the Butte Fire that the Tiger Creek Regulating Reservoir, site of the intake for the GSL, was full and spilling. This created an opportunity for AWA crews to attempt to use the almost-completed pipeline for fire protection. By manually operating the pipeline intake, they were able to get the Gravity Supply Line filled with a critical water supply by Saturday evening of the fire. 


Fire crews were immediately alerted to the locations of the additional hydrants, and filling the pipeline provided an additional high-pressure water supply in areas above the Buckhorn Water Treatment plant. 


The Gravity Supply Line is replacing the current upcountry water supply system that uses pumps to pull water up the steep canyon from the Mokelumne River to the Buckhorn Water Treatment Plant. Those pumps lost power at the outset of the fire, along with AWA water and wastewater sites east of the intersection of Ridge and New York Ranch Roads. 


Until AWA staff was able to get the GSL up and running, AWA was using generators to run the big pumps on the CAWP raw water system, with staff and equipment vulnerable to the unpredictable fire. It wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day of the fire that AWA crews could get a large enough generator into the canyon to run one of these critical pump stations. 


These two key gravity-flow water supply lines, the ATL and the GSL, are not dependent on electricity to operate. In the past, power outages shut down the upcountry water system as often as 25 times a year, disrupting water delivery to customers.


 “Avoiding shut-downs caused by power outages during fires and other disasters is a primary reason for constructing the Gravity Supply Line – along with the cost of running the pumped raw water delivery system,” said AWA Operations Manager Damon Wyckoff.  “The GSL pipeline has already proved its worth during the Butte Fire by making water available for fire protection.”


            In other areas affected by the Butte Fire and power outages, AWA crews worked 24-hour shifts, inside evacuated areas in many cases, to manually control filling of multiple CAWP system water tanks to avoid loss of pressure needed for fire protection. 


Crews also manually operated multiple wastewater pumps day and night to keep several wastewater disposal systems at safe levels.


“I don’t think most people are aware of the role that a water utility plays in a big fire or disaster,” said Wyckoff. “Several of AWA field staff members’ households were evacuated, but they all stayed on the job 24/7 to help keep homes supplied with water and AWA facilities operating safely.”
            There were no reports of homes without water service due to the Butte Fire. Raw water customers on the Amador Canal, primarily used for agriculture, were without water for about 48 hours until crews were able to install a generator on the pump that feeds raw water from Lake Tabeaud into the Amador Canal on Friday evening of the fire– the first time this has ever been done. 


The Water Agency provided free drinking water to anyone, customer or not, whose water supply was impacted during and immediately after the fire. Two AWA water tanker trucks were also used to deliver free water for livestock in areas where wells were shut down. 


Contact:  Gene Mancebo, General Manager


               Amador Water Agency, 209-223-3018 
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