Wildfires and Resulting Impacts to Water Bodies Used as Drinking Water Sources

September 20, 2020

Wildfires and Resulting Impacts to Water Bodies Used as Drinking Water Sources

The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Research and Development (ORD) and Office of Water (OW) host this webinar series to communicate the latest information on solutions for challenges facing small drinking water systems.

Detritus material in forest watersheds is the major terrestrial source of dissolved organic matter (DOM) and disinfection byproduct (DBP) precursors in water bodies used as drinking water sources and is also a fuel that can ignite wildfires. In these watersheds, hot temperatures and dry conditions increase the likelihood of high-severity wildfires. To help reduce this risk, low-severity prescribed burning is used as a forest management practice to reduce fuel loads from forest floor detritus material. In either high- or low-severity fires, DOM exported to source waters from managed watersheds is likely to have different characteristics and treatability compared to DOM exported from unburned watersheds. These potential source water quality changes may require that drinking water utilities adapt their treatment processes to account for these changes. Modeling and decision support tools can help explore treatability and adaptation strategies for these impacted water systems.

Presentation 1: Wildfire Impacts on Drinking Water Quality
This presentation will provide information on the impacts of high- and low-severity wildfires on dissolved organic matter concentrations in water bodies used as drinking water sources and DBP formation during treatment.
Presenters: Alex Chow, PhD, Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, and Tanju Karanfil, PhD, Environmental Engineering in the Department of Environmental Engineering and Earth Science, at Clemson University

Presentation 2: Decision Support for Drinking Water Utilities Impacted by Wildfire
This presentation will discuss watersheds’ response to post-fire sedimentation and will provide information on how water utilities can modify treatment plant operations to avoid DBPs. The 2012 High Park fire in Fort Collins, Colorado will be used as a real-world example to demonstrate the methods.
Presenters: Joseph Kasprzyk, PhD, Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering Department, and Fernando Rosario-Ortiz, PhD, Environmental Engineering Program, at University of Colorado Boulder