Wildfires Impact on Water- The Aftermath
Wildfires in California rage throughout the state, impacting water quality in nearby bodies of water. While fire retardants contain the blaze, chemical exposure threatens aquatic ecosystems and drinking water.
As lightning strikes, wildfires burn more than 1 million acres of land, fill the air with thick, grey smoke and pollute our water systems, changing our ecosystem. While firefighters rush to stop the spread of the wildfires in California, fire retardants damage water quality in nearby rivers, streams and water reservoirs. These bodies of water are often imperative to the local ecosystem, as well as the quality of the water we drink.
Studies prove that chemicals used to control wildfires have long-term implications on water-quality in affected bodies of water, which are often used for drinking water. Experts believe additional funding is needed to fully understand the damaging effects wildfires and chemical fire retardants have on water quality. As wildfires become a more prominent issue, research in these cases require more funding and resources.
Fire retardants are the chemicals used to prevent or slow down a fire and are imperative to stop the spread of wildfires. However, these chemicals, along with debris, ash and burned soil, leak into nearby bodies of water, such as rivers and lakes. These bodies of water are often used for agricultural, domestic and ecological purposes such as drinking water and water supplies.
Fire retardants can have damaging effects on water quality and aquatic life. According to studies published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2016, chemicals and debris cause harmful effects on water quality, which have led to the decrease in fish populations and habitat destruction. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2016 that foam created by fire retardants killed an abundant number of trout in a Codornices Creek after firefighters rushed to control a fire caused by a garbage truck accident. The same chemicals used for these cases are used in wildfires caused by natural disasters.
The USGS has also stated that wildfires followed by intense rainfall can cause debris flow and mudslides. Trees and plants usually act as a natural barrier to keep soil in place. As wildfires damage or destroy vegetation, soil erosion can become uncontrollable. Wildfires can also lead soil to be water-repellent. These factors lead to mudslides. Mudslides contribute to further water quality implications by adding debris and pollutants into water systems. Studies prove that intense rainfall after a wildfire damages downstream water quality. Furthermore, mudslides increase the chemical compounds found in water streams and water reservoirs, decreasing water quality and harming fisheries.
However, USGS studies help experts create safe forest management practices to minimize the damage caused by wildfires and fire retardants. According to Stanford Science Digest, forest managers use soil management techniques to create barriers to prevent soil erosion and remove debris and sediment to minimize the damage of potential mudslides. Compromised water is temporarily diverted and water sources are changed when needed. By doing so, forest managers prevent further implications of chemical exposure to unaffected bodies of water. Immediate clean up after wildfires prevent uncontrollable water quality implications.