A study by the U.S. Forest Service and conservation groups finds that fuel reduction efforts along the western Sierra can reduce the risk of wildfire by 70 percent. The problem now is where to find the money for forest fuel reduction.
Five scenarios were studied in the Mokelumne Watershed, which provides water for 1.3 million customers in the area east of San Francisco Bay.
The three-year study shows that an “average” fire would have minimal effect on the water supply, but firefighting, and the damage to homes and infrastructure, would cost up to $224 million. Fuel reduction efforts, on the other hand, would cost $68 million.
Kim Carr with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy says the challenge is finding a way to pay for the fuel reduction.
“Increase the number of investors in order to do this work on the front end, prevent the catastrophic fires, restore the health of the forest and save money," says Carr.
Carr has begun talks with the East Bay Municipal Utility District about raising water rates to pay for fuel reduction efforts. Carr says $5 per customer per year would make a difference.
"Rate payers, but then also larger businesses, high-volume users, industry," says Carr.
The District is considering surveying customers about their willingness to pay for fuel reduction.