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Stream water quality concerns linger long after the smoke clears - learning from Front Range wildfires

Posted date: April 07, 2017
Publication Year: 
Authors: Rhoades, Charles C.; McCormick, Frank H.; Miller, Susan - freelance science writer; Covino, Tim - Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Colorado State University; Chow, Alex - Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation Clemson University
Document type: Other Documents


Map of the 2002 Hayman fire and the 2012 High Park fire.
The perimeter of wildfires larger than 6,000 acres that have burned since 1996 and their proximity to Colorado Front Range population centers.
The close proximity of the Hayman, High Park and other recent wildfires to growing Front Range communities has highlighted the challenges of source water protection in watersheds vulnerable to severe wildfire.
The Hayman Fire, for example, occurred in watersheds that supply >70% of drinking water to the Denver metropolitan area. Post-fire erosion impacted the Strontia Springs and Cheesman Reservoirs after the Buffalo Creek and Hayman Fires, leading to costly sediment removal operations. Ash and sediment laden streams compromised the water supply to homes and agricultural producers after the High Park Fire, and water quality concerns forced the City of Greeley to stop using Cache la Poudre River water during both 2012 and 2013. Immediate post-fire response efforts usually address ash and sediment erosion with aerial mulching and seeding, and surface erosion control measures.
However, these water quality concerns typically fade after a few years as vegetation recovers. Changes in post-wildfire stream nutrients, combined with increased stream water temperature, can have longer-term impacts on aquatic biota and water quality.
This document discusses:
  • Front range wildfire x Water quality monitoring

  • Lasting wildfire effects – elevated stream nitrogen

  • Examining how wildfires effect water quality

  • Restoration opportunities

PDF icon stream-water-quality-after-fire.pdf806.65 KB

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