By Leigh Martinez

CALAVERAS COUNTY (CBS13) — A water treatment plant in the county says erosion from the Butte Fire has left the river water so dirty, it stopped the plant’s filters.

The Calaveras River isn’t exactly flowing clear currently, but during rainstorms, officials at the Jenny Lind Water Treatment Plant say it’s more like rolling mud than water.

“There was a point we could never get the turbidity under the regulations, so we just had to shut the plant down,” said plant manager John Brown.

The problem started after the Butte Fire and it’s only getting worse when it rains during the winter.

“We are seeing things we’ve never seen before in this water,” he said.

Video from the Calaveras County Water District in November shows erosion from the fire areas muddying the river water that flows into the Hogan Dam. Since the dam is low in California’s drought, it’s not diluting the water before it gets to the plant, leaving a thick mess.

The plant tested the turbidity level of the water—or how many particles are in it.

“Normal times it might be 10 at lowest or 200 at the highest. In the river, we’re seeing 800 turbidity levels,” said spokesman Joel Metzger.

The plant says it has enough clean drinking water in its tanks for customers, but what it really needs is a pre-filter facility. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave it the money, but the project won’t’ start until next month and it won’t be finished until 2017.

In the meantime, the plant needs to be careful flushing the water. If the backflow ponds spill over, dirty water goes back into the river, creating a state environmental problem.

“We are in unchartered territory,” Brown said. “I have no idea this next 10 days of storms, how this is going to react.”

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