How do Wildfires Impact our Drinking Water? Group of leading experts sheds light

August 25, 2014

Waterloo, ON (August 25, 2014) – In recent decades, wildfires of unprecedented magnitude and severity have increased in frequency, raising concerns about impacts on local natural resources such as water.  Canadian Water Network (CWN) and the Water Research Foundation (WRF) 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 these wildfires can have on water supplies.  

Natural disturbances to forests by wildfire, such as those burning in the Northwest Territories, 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.

The findings outlined in this report were gathered during a two-day experts’ workshop in Kananaskis, Alberta featuring thirty 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.”

“Forested regions often account for a substantial proportion of a local population’s water supply,” said Rob Renner, Executive Director of WRF. “Our goal in working with Canadian Water Network on this project was to address what water supply and treatment, public health and other emergency preparedness professionals need to most effectively plan for and address wildfire related water supply and treatment issues.”

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 American and beyond.

This report represents the latest effort by both WRF and CWN to address wildfires and corresponding source water matters. Recently, WRF published a report on examining best practices for wildfire risk reduction and mitigation. CWN produced its own study examining the management of risks posed to municipal waterworks systems as a result of wildfires in Alberta, Canada in 2012.

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About the CWN-WRF Workshop
CWN was approached by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) to develop an Advisory Panel with leading scientists and practitioners from Canada, the United States, and other countries to complement the findings of a 2013 wildfire-focused report by WRF. In September 2013, at the request of ESRD and in partnership with WRF, CWN convened the two-day experts' workshop in Kananaskis, Alberta, to assess the state of knowledge on wildfires, water supplies, and the potential for mitigation of the impacts of wildfire on safe drinking water.

About the Water Research Foundation
The Water Research Foundation is an internationally recognized leader in sponsoring research that supports the water community in holistically and cooperatively managing water from all sources to meet social, environmental, and economic needs. WRF’s research provides reliable and relevant solutions to the most critical challenges facing the water community today and into the future. Founded in 1966, WRF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has sponsored nearly 1,500 research projects and serves more than 1,000 subscribing organizations. For more information, go to www.WaterRF.org.

About Canadian Water Network
Headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario, Canadian Water Network (www.cwn-rce.ca) was created in 2001 by the Networks of Centres of Excellence Program to connect international water researchers with decision-makers engaged in priority water management issues. Canadian Water Network works to harness the expertise of researchers to improve the ability of practitioners and implementers to respond to water challenges.

Media Contact:

Liana Kreamer
lkreamer@cwn-rce.ca
(519)-888-4567 ext. 39378