Safeguarding Watershed Lands from the New Forest Fire “Norm”

When fire broke out near watershed land earlier this week, SFPUC watershed keepers were ready, and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) crews had already made their way through the nearest gates. They had all been preparing for something just like this.   

“Fires are more destructive than ever before,” Cal Fire Division Chief Jonathan Cox told firefighters, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, park rangers, and other first responders from throughout San Mateo County at an annual liaison meeting hosted by SFPUC Peninsula Watershed staff.  

Calling today’s conditions “the new normal,” Cox said that fires are now larger and more frequent throughout longer fire seasons.  “It takes everybody to deal with wildlands, and it’s critical we coordinate throughout the County.”

The SFPUC’s Peninsula Watershed serves more than a million water customers.

The 23,000-acre Peninsula Watershed is home to a drinking water system that serves more than a million customers, said SFPUC Peninsula Area Land Manager Jonathan Perrin, and “proactive prevention is key.”  Crews have taken out hazardous vegetation that is potentially fuel. There are 48 miles of fuel breaks to slow or stop the advance of flames, and watershed keepers are continually on the move to spot a potential event before it happens.

First responders from throughout San Mateo County meet with SFPUC Watershed staff for fire response planning.

Watershed staff are also holding regular training sessions to familiarize fellow responders with the water system infrastructure, power lines, access gates, roadways, and water pickup points. Cal Fire is also planning a training burn on San Andreas Dam for June 17, weather and other conditions permitting.

“Everyone has a part,” Perrin said, “and it’s done through relationships. You have to be able to reach out, talk to someone, and ask for what you need.”