Wildfire’s destructive impact doesn’t stop at the forest’s edge. New research shows that toxic ash, soil erosion and nutrient runoff caused by a blaze can contaminate nearby rivers and reservoirs, potentially threatening drinking water supplies for millions of downstream residents.
“Source waters impacted by wildfires can be difficult to treat, resulting in increased costs in the form of additional chemical coagulants and the potential need for capital improvements,” says Fernando Rosario-Ortiz, professor of environmental engineering.
This year, Rosario-Ortiz and his colleagues are working with Colorado utilities to develop infrastructure improvements for municipal water facilities and improve emergency coordination between state and federal agencies. The forward-thinking plans could help head off future water crises in the increasingly fire-plagued American West.