BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - Just after the Camp Fire water on the ridge showed signs of contamination.
Action News Now spoke with Paradise Irrigation District (PID) and Del Oro Water Company about making sure people are getting clean, safe water.
"It was overwhelming it just seemed like what do we do here," Ladrini said.
PID Field Superintendent Jim Ladrini said after the Camp Fire their system had thousands of leaks – nothing any chemist or water department has ever seen.
"So what do you do with empty reservoirs and tanks how do operate a system so the unknown – daunting then you have to sit down and realize this hasn't happened before so we're gonna write the book and so we started writing the book," he said.
Through trial and error PID created a plan built on listening to the people.
"People in standing homes i know im not drinking the water i just need to flush the toilet or they were so grateful they came into my office – thank you i can flush a toilet it just it's a whole different level of thinking about water," Ladrini said.
"We were really worried we didn't know how long it would take to get potable water," Awalt said.
When sampling began PID quickly realized their water wasn't the problem.
"I think the problem is proving to be less than everybody originally feared but none of us knew at the beginning," Harding said.
PID says the water itself was clean, but the lines tested positive for benzene.
"We are the only house on the street and so i know that these laterals that are connected to the service line could possibly have that contamination in them," Awalt said.
Ladrini said burned properties had the most contamination.
Del Oro Water Company Assistant Superintendent Jim Roberts said they saw the same thing.
"We know that theyre still out there we know that they're still those services out there that have those contamination in them but those are dead lines that aren't flowing into anything that water is just sitting right there in those service laterals and when time allows we do go out there and flush to make sure that that doesn't back up into our water manes at all," Robert said. "Standing homes that we tested have come back non detect for not only benzene but we've done the full 20 VOC panel."
But Roberts told Action News Now PID and Del Oro's systems are different.
"We went around and were flushing all of our services from top to bottom and as soon as we got done flushing our last empty service we went around and started all over again and we did this for depending on what water system 4-5 times," he said.
"I feel very relieved that our water is good and fresh and wholesome and good to drink and good to bathe in good to cook in its such a relief because its different than it is in Paradise and i understand the anxiety that comes with that but we're on a different water system and i feel very good about our water up here," Samons from Magalia said.
"PID chose a different method and different path we felt that that was the best thing for our water system and the users of our water system," Ladrini said.
Shawn Shingler lost his home in the fire and plans to rebuild.
"The most encouraging thing for me is as i was driving down the road here to meet you just seeing all the different pid little road construction signs there with pid on it seeing the backflows on it underneath that just means people are wanting to spend the money for the backflows to start the construction process," Shingler said. "And if PID is taking three months or four months to get those in it just because there's that many people that are excited about coming back and hey I need to get that done because I'm going to be starting on my home within the next six months or a year – when you see that many of them out there oh my gosh its exciting to see people saying yup i wanna be back up on the ridge."
"Everybody's been worried about whether the water is potable we are getting a lot of questions – people come to the door now and say do you really have good water but a large contingent have said ill drink bottled water just give me a home i want back on the ridge," Garding said.
"None of us really realized the problems that we faced with the water, PID, their people the same as us we were all homeless and overwhelmed," Harding said.
"It was very mechanical to separate what needed to be done in the moment to what i would ultimately learn and continue to learn today," Ladrini said.
Ladrini talked to people wanting to simply flush the toilet or water their trees, but one person really touched him.
"Tears filled his eyes and he said I want to come home I just want to come he was tired of living in an RV to where his wife could hardly walk up the stairs," Ladrini said. "I think I was kind of leaning this way but he was really the straw that broke the camels back for me that made me realize that this was not about recovering a water system this was about recovering a people."
"He loves this town he loves this community and just not a job to him not at all this is about where he ultimately wants to see this town come back and he's going to do everything he can," Shingler said.
Roberts lost his home in Magalia, but never stopped working for his community.
"He's our hero he really did save our water while his home was burning the water meters were water was spewing out there were fountains in the sky and he came and pulled every meter so that it would handle- he would never have to decompress the lines," Samons said.
"We do have to do our part and i'd like to emphasize that to people this is not a this wonderful water company is gonna come save our bacon they're people just like us this is our water company and we gotta step up," Harding said.