What Pacific Pride Fire’s ‘environmental emergency’ means for your drinking water

SOUTHERN OREGON, —It’s been three days since the Pacific Pride Fire burned an industrial area near downtown Medford, yet the cleanup is far from over.

Oil, kerosene, and diesel all entered the environment and are now in Bear Creek, storm drains, and streets, but it’s still unclear how much.

“We’re here on site evaluating but we will be collecting some samples basically up and downstream at connections from where the fire was just to make sure any damage was localized to the fire area and hasn’t spread,” said Ben Klayman, Medford Water Commission Director.

Klayman says its intake system is up above Bear Creek, and no local communities get their drinking water from the creek itself.

“For Medford water, our sources of supply are the Rogue River above Bear Creek so there’s no risk of contamination to the Medford water supply from either that Rogue River intake or our Big Butte Springs supply neither one of those are impacted,” said Klayman.

But the Medford water Commission is still collecting samples out of precaution. Further downstream though, the situation is different.

Michael Bollweg is the Public Works Director for the city of Rogue River.

“We’re extremely concerned about what goes on in the watershed especially as it relates to Bear Creek,” said Bollweg.

Bollweg also owns Southern Oregon Water Technology, which oversees and manages the drinking water plant for the city of Gold Hill.

“The city of Gold Hill and Rogue River and then eventually Grants Pass all have to deal with what’s going down Bear Creek and into the rogue,” said Bollweg.

He says when his team heard about the fire, it shut down the water treatment plants at Gold Hill and Rogue River, because of potential environmental impacts on its source water. They are now both back up and running.

Still, Bollweg says they’ll be closely monitoring the situation.

“We still intend to have enough reserve in our reservoir system to make sure that in the event that things occur like this that we have time we can turn them off let the events go by and we can do our craft and make sure that we are delivering the best possible drinking water we can.”

Bollweg says there is no concern about contaminated drinking water in Gold Hill or Rogue River.

We reached out to the city of Grants Pass Public Works Department, to find out about its water situation, we didn’t hear back.

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Jenna King is the 6pm anchor and our Feature Reporter at 10pm and 11pm for NBC5 News. Jenna is a Burbank, CA native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at Oregon she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through her internship with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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