WILDFIRES CAN HAVE significant impact
on water utilities due to their potential
widespread effect on source water quality
and related treatment costs. From January
1 through November 8, 2013, 42,538 wildfires were reported in the United States,
burning almost 4. 1 million acres of land.
These wildfires have far-lingering effects
beyond just the loss of forestation. Burned
areas are vulnerable to erosion and mud
slides that can fill up sources of drinking
water with ash, silt, fire retardant chemicals, and contaminants, impacting both
water quality and quantity (Figure 1).
While it is impossible to prevent forest
fires, there are steps utilities can take to
prepare for them and to mitigate their
impact. The study, Effects of Wildfire on
Drinking Water Utilities and Best Practices
for Wildfire Risk Reduction and Mitigation
(project #4482, Sham, Tuccillo, and Rooke),
compiles information gathered from a
survey administered to drinking water
utilities that experienced or are at risk of
experiencing effects from wildfires; feedback gathered at an industry workshop;
and a review of related industry, academic,
and scientific literature.
Survey participants reported that col-
laboration with other drinking water
systems, landowners, non-profit organi-
zations, and local, state, and federal gov-
ernment agencies was a critical aspect of
effective wildfire mitigation. Other best
practices identified included:
º Conducting strategic fuel reduction
activities in the watershed and areas
immediately surrounding reservoirs.
º Ensuring proper maintenance in and
around the wells, pumps, and
º Providing education in the form of
staff training and awareness among
º Encouraging state or county ordi-
nances to require fire safe activities
around rural residences.
º Creating a network of shaded fuel
breaks at key locations to provide
firefighters access to remote areas.
º Developing partnerships and coop-
eration with other organizations to
ensure upstream reservoirs have
sediment containment capacity.
º Being prepared in the event of a fire,
including diversifying water intakes
and establishing redundancy of treat-
ment plants and raw water supplies.
º Planning for wildfire appropriately,
such as having a formal plan, imple-
menting fuel hazard reduction,
reducing wildfire severity, and devel-
oping pre-permitting sediment con-
trol structures downstream from high
º Managing forest area in a way that
will aid in delivering the highest
water quality possible, such as con-
sidering the age and species compo-
sition of the forest.
The 1½ day workshop in Denver pro-
vided the water industry with the oppor-
tunity to share lessons learned and best
practices for mitigating the impacts of
wildfire on water quality and quantity.
Effects of Wildfire on Drinking