Wildfires and Water Quality


Analies Dyjak  |  Policy Nerd

Wildfires are of growing concern in the Southwestern United States. We’ve seen a significant increase in both the frequency and magnitude of these destructive natural disasters since 1990. These areas are naturally susceptible to drought-like conditions, but the magnitude of wildfires becomes further heightened due to global warming trends and poor timber harvesting techniques. The overall threat of wildfires is also increasing due to urban sprawl and higher densities of people moving to drought-prone locations. In conclusion, wildfires can negatively impact water quality and here’s why:

How do Wildfires Affect Water Quality?

After a wildfire event, watersheds become vulnerable to erosion, sedimentation, runoff, and other freshwater impairments. 80% of freshwater resources originate or pass through some type of forested land. Forested watersheds naturally purify rainwater, slow the rate of storm water runoff, and contribute immensely to the health of surrounding tributaries. Once forested vegetation is destroyed, the rate and volume of runoff increases tremendously, which is influenced by topography of an area. Additionally, purifying capabilities become eliminated once forested vegetation is destroyed.

What Type of Water Quality Pollution?

Destruction from massive forest fires results in displaced debris, ash, and contamination. Loose detritus of any sorts gets picked up and swept into waterbodies after a subsequent rain event. Water treatment facilities try their best to provide clean drinking water to municipalities, but an influx of suspended solids can make this a very difficult task. Extreme weather events can increase the rate of incoming water containing high levels of suspended solids. Large deposits of sediment into a water treatment facility increases the levels of suspended material, specifically dissolved organic carbon (DOC), into your drinking water. It can also increase the turbidity or cloudiness of drinking water. Dissolved organic carbon molecules react with chlorine and chloramine, which are used to purify drinking water. This reaction creates disinfection byproducts which we are very familiar with here at Hydroviv. 

Introduction of Chemicals Into Waterbodies

Fire retardant chemicals are necessary in containing wildfire destruction, but there are several negative consequences associated with their impact on freshwater resources. The typical "slurry" used to combat wildfires is a mixture of water, ammonium phosphate fertilizers, colorants, corrosion inhibitors, thickeners, stabilizers, and bactericides. Little is known about health effects to humans, but many of these contaminants are toxic to aquatic species.

If you live in a area prone to wildfires, we suggest purchasing a filter equipped to filter out these harmful contaminants and suspended solids. If you have questions about water quality in your area, don’t hesitate to email us at hello@hydroviv.com.
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