UPDATED - What You Need to Know About Fires and Salem's Drinking Water Safety

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Closeup of water from faucent going into a glass.

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Is Salem's water safe to drink?
Salem's water remains safe to drink.  Based on the status of the Beachie Creek fire as of September 17, the City has no reason to expect that to change.

Will the City ever turn off drinking water?
No.  The City will be able to provide water, even if we have to evacuate the drinking water treatment facility due to fire or other staff safety concerns.  We also have several days supply of water stored in our reservoirs we can push out to the community if necessary, though we may ask customers to conserve. If we do have to evacuate Geren Island, we may issue a temporary boil water order and ask for your help reducing your water use.

What about ash from fires in the area?
To date, ash from the fires is not threatening water quality.  Ash is a form of carbon and carbon can be effective in treating some water quality concerns.  Should there be a concern with Salem's drinking water, an emergency alert will be issued through our public website, social media, email, and community alert system.

What is the City doing now to protect our drinking water from impacts of wildfires in the area?
We continue to monitor water quality as part of our day to day water treatment practices. We draw raw water from the North Santiam River and treat Salem's drinking waterthrough slow sand filtration before adjusting further with chlorine, fluoride, and soda ash.  Learn more here:  https://www.cityofsalem.net/drinking-water.  Water treatment experts on staff are on location at our treatment facility and will continue to work at the Geren Island location as long as it is safe to do so.

Who assists the City with drinking water quality testing?
Oregon Health Authority is our partner in sand filtration water treatment best practices and shares standards in drinking water quality relating to wildfires from other parts of the West Coast.  We are in constant communication with OHA.

Are there any concerns we should watch for this fall?
We are monitoring conditions in the watershed every day.  This close monitoring helps us adjust treatment at the Geren Island facility before water quality tests show minor changes.  

There are two issues we're watching for, that may develop as a result of Oregon's winter rains: erosion and turbidity.  Just like with any heavy rain event, we may see increased erosion and resulting turbidity in the North Santiam River, Salem's water supply.  It may take a little longer for us to take raw North Santiam River water (the water entering the Geren Island Treatment Plant pre-treatment) and remove the bulk of sediments from turbidity as part of treatment.  Depending on the intensity and duration of a turbidity event, there may be an impact on the quantity of treated water we can produce each day.  Our community's use of water decreases during winter months to about 20-25 million gallons a day (from peak use of 55 million of gallons of water per day during the summer).

  • Erosion.  Erosion not only effects the soil, plants and wildlife within the watershed, but may also impact the water supply itself.  When the rainwater erodes the soil, it can carry materials present in the soil to Salem's water source, the North Santiam River.  Here's an update from https://www.usgs.gov/news/increases-wildfire-caused-erosion-could-impact-water-supply-and-quality-west-2

  • Turbidity.  Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness caused by sediment or particles in water. Turbidity can increase the cost of drinking water treatment.  To prepare, we've already purchased additional supplies needed to treat Salem's drinking water.  

What is the City doing now to prepare for impact of erosion or turbidity in watershed, resulting from heavy rain?
We are watching forecasts for changing weather conditions that may result in heavy rains in the Santaim Canyon.  Salem's drinking water travels 26 miles from the Detroit Reservoir and through two dams.

What will the City do in a heavy rain event to protect water quality?
We also can pass raw water through slow sand filters in two steps: a roughing filter to catch larger particles, and then, through the regular filters to catch smaller particles and everyday biological concerns.  If conditions merit, we can temporaily close the intake at Geren Island and draw water from our reservoirs. 

What can we do when the rains come? 
You can keep track of the volume of water in Salem area creeks and stream here: https://hww.onerain.com/   You can also protect your property from flooding now - https://www.cityofsalem.net/Pages/protect-your-property-from-flooding.aspx

What are the long-term implications of wildfire to our water supply?
Soil erosion caused by fire damage is a potential consequence after a wildfire. At this time, the Santiam Fire is not harming our water supply.  We believe that previous fires have contributed to growth of algae in the Santiam River watershed.  The long-term solution for removing algae and toxins is to add ozone as a treatment step. Ozone is one of the strongest disinfectants used to treat water. This treatment produces no taste or odor and no ozone is left in the water after treatment. Carollo Engineers, well known as one of the nation's top water quality engineering firms, has begun designing the ozone treatment system. We expect to have ozone treatment up and ready in time for 2021 algae season. Video updates are on the City's website.

How will the City notify me if there is an emergency?
If you live within Salem city limits and have signed up for Community Alerts from the City of Salem, you will receive a text, email or phone message based on the instructions you provided us. If you haven't signed up yet, you can do so here: https://www.cityofsalem.net/salem-alertWe will not use Community Alert unless we are facing an emergency situation.  


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555 Liberty ST SE RM 220
Salem OR 97301
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