Combating Wildfires & Preserving Water Supplies

Mon, 2013-07-29 08:21

As emphasized in an earlier discussion on water scarcity, water conservation efforts are paramount to various western U.S. states. The recent occurrence of wildfires in the region has propelled significant action to combat not only the environmental destruction of wildlife but also the degradation of water supplies. Announced on July 23, 2013, the Department of Agriculture outlined a new federal, local, and private partnership to reduce the risks of wildfire to America’s water supply in western states.

In the announcement, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewel outlined how the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership allows for federal and local collaboration to identify and mitigate wildfire risks to the nation’s water supply, irrigation, and hydroelectric facilities. According to Secretary Vilsack, “this partnership will increase forest resilience, improve water quality, and reduce the risk of catastrophic damage from wildfire. This is good news for anyone who pays for a water bill, and it is good news for our environment.”

wildfire sediment deposit

Above: Heavy rains after a wildfire resulted in heavy sediment deposits.

The USDA’s Forest Service and the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will initiate the partnership through a pilot program in the Upper Colorado Headwaters and Big Thompson watershed in Northern Colorado. The partnership will include the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and Colorado State Forest Service, which builds off prior agreements between the Forest Service and municipal water supplies, such as Denver’s Forest to Faucets partnership.

“In the West, more than forty Reclamation dams and facilities are on or downstream from the Forest Service lands where drier, hotter weather has exacerbated the risk of wildfire,” said Secretary Jewell. “This partnership can serve as a model of the West, when it comes to collaborative and targeted threat reduction and restoration efforts to protect our critical water supplies.”

In general, the prevalence of wildfires in the region has sparked action to combat flames and the inevitable damage to the environment. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is a significant initiative that should serve to protect the relatively scarce water supply in the West. As the partnership enters the pilot phase in Colorado, it will be important to monitor its progress in effectively protecting the water supply from environmental debris caused by the wildfires. The future of the project in relation to its effectiveness remains to be seen, but the proposed identification and remediation of the problems caused by the wildfires is an important first step in preserving water supplies.

By Peter J. Bock


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