Mines study finds wildfires significantly impact drinking water quality

GOLDEN, Colo., June 27, 2012 – As numerous wildfires burn across Colorado, a new study conducted by Mines Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate students last semester details how these fires can be detrimental to drinking water quality and suggests what municipalities could do to respond to this threat.

“While impacts of wildfires have been studied by scientists from forestry, biology and hydrology, this study is the first that combines these experiences with water treatment engineering and focuses on adverse effects on drinking water quality and appropriate response strategies,”said Professor Jörg Drewes.

Rain events following a wildfire can result in detrimental impacts on surface water quality in impacted areas. Run-off mixes with left over debris and sediment in a “chocolate milk shake-like mix” that can end up in drinking water sources. Increased turbidity (cloudiness), alkalinity and organic matter load can thwart purifying mechanisms inside a downstream water treatment plant. If a water plant is challenged by these conditions, the drinking water quality might be compromised including tap water that might have a smoky taste and perhaps doesn’t meet EPA drinking water standards.

“This project simulated a range of detrimental wildfire run-off conditions utilizing a surface water treatment pilot plant at the Colorado School of Mines in close collaboration with the City of Golden’s drinking water treatment plant,” said Drewes.

The study was conducted for the city of Golden as part of the Colorado School of Mines’ Environmental Engineering Pilot Plant class, a course in which Mines students solve real-world engineering problems. They examined how a fire in the Golden area would adversely affect the water supply in Clear Creek, the source of Golden’s drinking water. Finally, the study suggested action steps the city could take to be better prepared for these events and to protect drinking water quality based on the severity of a fire in the area.

“The aim of this project was to determine the impacts of wildfire on Golden’s drinking water supply, treat the affected water to exceptional quality, then develop preparatory suggestions for the city and an action plan for once a fire occurs,” said Alex Wing, a Mines civil and environmental engineering graduate student.

Read the full report here.

-MINES-

 

Media contact:

David Tauchen, Public Relations Specialist / 303-273-3088 / DTauchen@mines.edu

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 / KGilbert@mines.edu

 

Technical contact:

Jörg Drewes, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering / Jdrewes@mines.edu