For public water systems located in areas prone to wildfires or mudslides/flash-floods due to wildfire damaged areas.
The EPA Incident Action Checklist helps you prepare for and respond to wildfires. At a minimum, please consider the following (refer to checklist for more detail). We list additional resources at the bottom of this page.
Prepare—The Most Important Step
Connect locally, review emergency response plans, protect critical infrastructure.
Respond—Demanding and Exhausting
Safety first, monitor supply, communicate with emergency partners, communicate with customers, document all actions.
- Notify local emergency responders of your operational status. Consider immediately implementing a precautionary water advisory if conditions are unknown.
- Contact DOH if your water system is impacted by a wildfire. Respond to inquiry by DOH on system status. Maintain communication with DOH.
- Conduct assessment of system and document damage. Contact local EOC for resource needs. If major damage or multiple water systems impacted, assign a utility representative to the incident command or local EOC (this action typically needs to be agreed on prior to the event).
- Notify customers of any water advisories; working with local EOC, DOH, media outlets, and other available means.
- Request or offer assistance through mutual aid agreements already in place such as WaWARN.
- Document all damage assessments, mutual aid requests, emergency repair work, equipment used, purchases made, staff hours worked, vehicle mileage. Take photos to help with documentation.
Recover—the Long Road Back to Normal Operations
Compile documentation, communicate with response partners, communicate with customers, monitor water quality.
- Continue to work with response partners to obtain available resources, funding, or other needs.
- Contact DOH for water quality monitoring requirements.
- Establish fill stations for clean-up and re-build contractors.
- Participate in any wildfire response teams to lend assistance and ensure recognition of critical water infrastructure and locations.
- Communicate to customers regarding recovery actions and timing.
- Implement mitigation measures to prepare for possible mudslides/flooding events following a wildfire. Measures could include installing erosion control, measuring turbidity upstream of surface water intakes, securing pipelines, exercising emergency sources or interties for backup supply.
- Consider sharing lessons learned and experiences with other utilities.
Issuing Health Advisories
Water systems significantly impacted by wildfire must notify customers that the water might not be safe to drink. The health advisory must remain in effect until water sample results confirm the water is safe to drink.
If a health advisory is issued, notify the regional engineer or the regional office. The regional office will provide guidance regarding sampling or other steps necessary to lift the health advisory.
Guidance for Private Well Users
Private well users returning after an evacuation, may not have safe water to drink. Power loss can cause backflows, water treatment equipment failures, and other problems. For wells that are free of nitrate, boil tap water for one minute to kill germs (boiling will concentrate nitrate) until water can be tested.
Things to look for after wildfire:
Contact a licensed contractor to repair any damage found. Collect water samples and have a professional water lab analyze the quality of your water. At a minimum, water should be tested for coliform bacteria. If chemical or other contamination of the well is suspected, ask the lab about other tests they can run.
Perform a damage assessment of the well and distribution system. Contact a licensed contractor to repair any damage found. Collect water samples and have a professional water lab analyze the quality of your water. At a minimum, water should be tested for coliform bacteria. If chemical or other contamination of the well is suspected, ask the lab about analyzing the water for other contaminants.
Contact the local health department for additional information regarding private wells.
Drinking Water In Your Home. Resources for consumers and private well owners.
- DNR Information on Wildfires—for mapping and contacts
- Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WaWARN)
- Wildfires, Stay Healthy
- Wildfires, Stay Safe
- Emergency Publications for Water Systems
- Public Notification for water systems
- Pressure-Loss Events Q&A 331-338 (PDF) (You can use the Drinking Water Warning: Loss of Pressure Form (Word) for public notification.)
- Backflow Incident Q&A 331-494 (PDF) (You can use the Drinking Water Warning: Backflow Incident Form (Word) for public notification.)
- Calfire's Create Defensible Space webpage
- USGS Review of Wildfire Impacts on Water Quality
- EPA Incident Action Checklist—Wildfire
- EPA's Wildfires webpage
- EPA Federal Funds webpage
- Infrastructure Assistance Coordinating Council (IACC)