The Idyllwild Fire Department’s effort to refute a reader’s opinion printed in the Idyllwild Town Crier about the adequacy of fire hydrants in the Idyllwild and Fern Valley water districts created a small snafu itself.

In December, Pine Cove resident Jeff Smith wrote an opinion piece in which he argued that three fire hydrants did not meet the minimum flow requirements. His conclusion was based on data from two hydrant surveys.

The three hydrants are located at Rockdale and Fernleaf Drive, Village View Dr. east of Ridgecrest and Westridge Rd. and Robin Dr. According to the reports, the first hydrant is supposed to flow at 1,000 gallons per minute. The other two hydrants have a requirement of 750 gallons per minute.

The Insurance Service Office, whose rating insurance companies can use for setting fire-insurance premiums, uses the distance between structures to help determine needed flow rates.

Tuesday morning, Jan. 23, a fire department crew tested the flow of each hydrant. The results were discussed at the afternoon IFPD Commission meeting.

While all three hydrants had water flow, unfortunately, the customers near the West Ridge Road and Robin Drive hydrant suffered dirty water for hours, and at least one had poor water quality for nearly a day.

IWD General Manager Jack Hoagland issued a press release the next day explaining why the water seemed dirty and described it as “miscommunication.” But between 10 and 15 customers complained to the district’s office about their water. This included IWD Director Peter Szabadi and neighbor Carol Mendoza.

According to Hoagland, “Small particles of sediment (from wells) and pipe corrosion (rust) settle out of the water into the distribution pipelines. Generally, the water flow rate in the water mains is very low and the particles remain undisturbed.” However, hydrant flow testing can disturb this material and did in the West Ridge Road neighborhood.

At the Idyllwild Fire commission meeting, Battalion Chief Mark LaMont reported the flow rates that IFD staff found after testing the three hydrants. He also noted that ISO uses its own hydrologists to determine the sufficiency of water when grading the fire service to jurisdictions. Idyllwild has a 2 rating compared to the other Hill areas, served by Cal Fire, that have a 9 rating.

The Rockdale and Fernleaf drives hydrant flow was estimated to be 731 gpm. The Village View hydrant tested at 557 gpm and its projected availability was 857 gpm. The Westridge hydrant’s estimated flow was 919 gpm, which is greater than the required flow that Smith took from the survey.

In his comments at last week’s Idyllwild Fire commission meeting, Fire Chief Patrick Reitz noted, “Both water districts have been working on and have a long-range plan to address the remaining single-port hydrants. Like all capital improvement plans, it takes time and especially money.”

He also said, “A hydrant is better than no hydrant — regardless of size.”

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