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Report sheds light on how wildfires impact drinking water

In recent decades, wildfires of unprecedented magnitude and severity have increased in frequency, raising concerns about impacts on local natural resources such as water. The Water Research Foundation (WRF) and the Canadian Water Network (CWN) recently released a new report that offers a comprehensive look at the state of knowledge around this subject and the potential for mitigating the impact wildfires can have on water supplies.

Natural disturbances to forests by wildfire can adversely affect water supply, water quality, and stream health for years, or even decades, after it occurs. These effects can also be felt much farther downstream at larger basin scales, increasing the likelihood that drinking water treatment processes will be impacted.

Wildfire Impacts on Water Supplies and the Potential for Mitigation focuses on knowledge mobilization and lays the groundwork to systematically fill research gaps related to water quality, the vulnerability of municipal water utilities to wildfires, and the efficacies of mitigation measures to protect source water. The findings in this report will help ensure scientists, engineers, foresters, and water managers have the resources they need to develop appropriate safety plans, according to the WRF.

The findings outlined in this report were gathered during a two-day experts’ workshop in Kananaskis, Alberta featuring 30 leading scientists and practitioners from the United States, Canada and around the world. Experts discussed what leading-edge science exists to explain trends in wildfire occurrence and risks, the impacts of wildfires on water supply and treatment, and the evidence supporting the effectiveness of forest and water management techniques to mitigate the impacts of wildfires on drinking water supplies and treatment.

“Wildfires can have catastrophic impacts on drinking water sources, ecosystem health and the ability for water providers to deliver clean, safe drinking water to communities,” said Bernadette Conant, Executive Director of CWN. “Our organization, like the Water Research Foundation, is keen on arming decision-makers with what they need to provide safe drinking water and we believe projects like this one will be a valuable resource in serving this mission.”

Experts participating in the two-day workshop discussed issues surrounding wildfires and related supply, treatment, and impact mitigation efforts based on their own experiences in other forested locations. As such, the outcomes of this workshop included in the final report produced by WRF and CWN are equally relevant to many areas in North America and beyond.

The Water Research Foundation is an internationally recognized provider of research that supports the water community in holistically and cooperatively managing water from all sources to meet social, environmental, and economic needs.

 

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