Canadian Forest Service Publications
A regional-scale index for assessing the exposure of drinking-water sources to wildfires. Robinne, F. N., Bladon, K. D., Silins, U., Emelko, M. B., Flannigan, M. D., Parisien, M. -A., ... & Dupont, D. P. (2019). Forests, 10(5), 384.
Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre
Catalog ID: 40274
CFS Availability: PDF (download)
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Recent human-interface wildfires around the world have raised concerns regarding the reliability of freshwater supply flowing from severely burned watersheds. Degraded source water quality can often be expected after severe wildfire and can pose challenges to drinking water facilities by straining treatment response capacities, increasing operating costs, and jeopardizing their ability to supply consumers. Identifying source watersheds that are dangerously exposed to post-wildfire hydrologic changes is important for protecting community drinking-water supplies from contamination risks that may lead to service disruptions. This study presents a spatial index of watershed exposure to wildfires in the province of Alberta, Canada, where growing water demands coupled with increasing fire activity threaten municipal drinking-water supplies. Using a multi-criteria analysis design, we integrated information regarding provincial forest cover, fire danger, source water volume, source-water origin (i.e., forested/un-forested), and population served. We found that (1) >2/3 of the population of the province relies on drinking-water supplies originating in forested watersheds, (2) forest cover is the most important variable controlling final exposure scores, and (3) watersheds supplying small drinking water treatment plants are particularly exposed, especially in central Alberta. The index can help regional authorities prioritize the allocation of risk management resources to mitigate adverse impacts from wildfire. The flexible design of this tool readily allows its deployment at larger national and continental scales to inform broader water security frameworks.
Plain Language Summary
Wildfires around the world have raised concerns about the reliability of freshwater supply flowing from severely burned watersheds. After severe wildfires, there are challenges for the drinking water facilities including lower water quality, reduced treatment response capacities, increased operating costs, and limited ability to supply consumers. This study presents a spatial index of watershed exposure to wildfires in Alberta, Canada, where municipal drinking water supplies are threatened by growing water demands and increased fire activity. The results of the study indicate that 2/3 of the population relies on drinking water supplies from forested watersheds, forest cover is the most important variable controlling final exposure scores, and watersheds supplying small drinking water treatment plants are the most exposed to wildfire effects. This tool can help with risk management and reduce negative impacts from wildfire. Its flexible design allows for potential deployment at larger national and continental scales.