With rain coming tomorrow and for the next few months, the rush is to keep the watershed and streams around Wine Country free of toxic fire debris. To prevent wholesale contamination of the watershed, you need tens if not hundreds of thousands of tiny, filtering barriers.
Pretty much everywhere you look in the burn areas, you'll see barriers placed around storm drains. These barriers and dams, called wattles, are made of straw and other materials and can help keep toxic ash from washing down into the drains.
"That will block debris flow into our storm drains and our creeks. We're also adding some compost rolls to provide additional filtering to reduce that pollution potential," said Rita Miller of the Santa Rosa Water Department.
Nobody is quite sure what and how much toxics are in the ash but many believe it's a lot. "During this weekend, we're planning to do some water quality sampling to actually determine what's running off into our creeks and waterways," said Milller.
They'll be looking for toxic heavy metals such as mercury and lead as well as for asbestos which can be a carcinogen.
At the same time, the Sonoma County Water District is concentrating on the coming winter's big storms, the so-called atmospheric rivers. They can wash toxic ash into sewers and waterways as well as cause the denuded land to break free.
"And so we really want to get a system in place to protect public safety and property," said Jay Jasperez of the Sonoma County Water District.
That will require the installation of more and better sensors on land and water to warn the public and deploy so crews to problem areas immediately.
"And they can issue watches and warnings for hazards such as flash floods, debris flows, landslides et cetera," said Jasperez.
There's an effort to cap the sewer pipes of burnt properties so toxic ash does not get into the septic sewers and damage the sewage treatment plants.
Here's where the story takes an interesting twist.
The Wattle Guys of Petaluma, in two shifts a day, are racing against time and the elements to protect Wine Country's watersheds and streams.
"Some of which are very important to migrating salmon and such, and if we let the materials get into the creek via those short pipes, we're gonna be cleaning the creeks out for a generation to come," said Doug Allard one of The Wattle Guys.
Allard, a very successful Sonoma County native, who lost his home in the firestorm, is donating these to Sonoma County. "We've had 40 years of experience in the storm water business and we felt we could help the community and we're in a unique position to do that," said Allard.
The county Water Quality Board said it will pay his costs to produce the wattles.