GRANTS PASS, Ore. — If rain washes toxic materials into Bear Creek, it could also bring those same toxins downstream to the Rogue River. Grants Pass pulls 100 percent of their drinking water from the river, so preparing for that possibility is at the top of the city's priority list.
The water treatment plant in Grants Pass is establishing a baseline for the water quality early this week to see what the water should currently look like. Water quality testing is nothing new to the plant, but they're paying extra attention to it now because of the unique circumstances.
"We've never experienced a fire that has gone through a large urban area to the extent that it did," Jason Canady, City of Grants Pass' Public Works Director, said. "We just want to get ahead of monitoring any potential water quality changes that might affect the drinking water for our communities."
They're partnering with multiple agencies, including the Medford Water Commission, to get samples of the ash surrounding Bear Creek to get an idea of what toxins it may contain. In addition, when the first rainfall happens, they'll be testing water directly from Bear Creek to see if and what toxic materials actually get into the water.
Even with all of the burned areas surrounding Bear Creek, Canady is confident the water running through the taps of Grants Pass will be safe to drink this fall and winter.
"We really do believe that the water will be safe," Canady said. "But because we've never experienced this, so I can't say with any surety. So we're going to monitor it and we're going to make sure."
If pollutants were to reach unsafe levels, Canady says the reservoir system in Grants Pass would be able to supply its customers with sufficient, safe drinking water for about a day and a half. He thinks that should give the city enough time to let the pollutants pass downstream before beginning to pull more water from the river.