No easy fix after benzene water contamination found in fire-damaged Santa Rosa neighborhood

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) -- For Natalie Manning of Fountaingrove, all that remains of home sweet home is a scraped lot, a plan to rebuild, and now, a new problem piled atop so many old ones. "It's sickening," she said through teary eyes. "I couldn't sleep last night. Makes me nervous and uncertain and sad."

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Natalie and neighbors knew about the benzene contaminating water pipes to 350 lots. The benzene is a byproduct of plastic pipes heated by the fire. Santa Rosa has announced that five miles of those pipes need replacing.

Ben Horenstein, who runs the water department for Santa Rosa, described a complicated, $45 million project that it won't be happening quickly. "Right now, two years does feel on the optimistic side. It is a very difficult position to be in. It seems unimaginable."

In a neighborhood where so many homeowners have already put their houses on the market, the prospect of a long-term pipe replacement feels like a low blow. "It's like losing the house again because we just don't know," said Natalie. She and her family their could conceivably get their home rebuilt and not be able to move in before her their insurance runs out. Or, they might start living like Raja and Zahia Naber, whose house survived. But, because of the benzene, they use only bottled water supplied by the city. What flows from the tap remains contaminated. "I know this is another crisis but nothing compared with other people," said Zahia. "Makes me appreciate water much more than I used to," said Raja. The view from his kitchen sink shows nothing but burnscape. "You should have seen it before they cleaned it."

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In the firestorm zone, mark down these new water woes into the column labeled "one more thing," - one more obstacle between normalcy and reality.

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