U.S. Water News Online
SAN ANTONIO -- The board that oversees the region's water
system in the San Antonio area has voted to cut off water it was
supplying to help fight an enormous mulch fire, saying it fears
contaminating a major aquifer.
The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) trustees voted unanimously to
immediately end the supply of water being directly sprayed on the
pile in Helotes and to deny an application for construction of a
water main by a state-hired contractor to fight the fire.
Oil Mop LLC was hired by the Texas Commission on Environmental
Quality to help fight a fire that has been consuming a 70-foot-high
pile of tree stumps and branches since Christmas in a small hill town
northwest of San Antonio.
Government officials have struggled with how to battle the blaze,
which has regularly layered the town in smoke, because it sits on the
edge of the Edwards Aquifer that supplies water to San Antonio and
SAWS had initially been willing to supply water to help fight the
fire, but concern about possible aquifer contamination grew after two
homeowners near the fire reported smoky-smelling cloudy water pouring
from their taps. They both get water from private wells but draw from
the same groundwater supply as the public wells several miles away.
"This board's primary responsibility is protecting the water
supply,"said San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, one of seven members
of the SAWS Board.
Oil Mop had planned to build clay-lined trenches and a pit to
douse smoldering branches and catch ashy water. The water was then to
be cleaned and treated before being discharged. The plan was expected
to cost the state $3 million.
State officials said they were confident the plan would put out
the fire as soon as possible without endangering the aquifer that
supplies roughly 1.7 million people, but SAWS board members were
They ordered their staff to keep looking for other ways to fight
the fire, without pouring water directly on it.
Terry Clawson, a spokesman for TCEQ, said Oil Mop would pull its
firefighters off the blaze until another plan could be found.
"It would be extremely dangerous for the firefighters to proceed
without an adequate water supply,"he said.
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