Rain runoff following a wildfire can compromise drinking water quality and overwhelm water treatment plants with a "chocolate milk shake-like mix" of debris, according to a new study by the Colorado School of Mines.
This can affect tap water that might have a smoky taste and could fail to meet federal drinking water standards, says engineering graduate students whose study suggests ways cities government can protect drinking water after a wildfire.
This is a real-time risk for communities like Colorado Springs, where the Waldo Canyon Fire has scorches 15,324 acres of hillside terrain, and the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood watch for the wildfire's "burn scar" Wednesday afternoon.
In the study, School of Mines graduate researchers worked with the city of Golden on scenarios exploring how a fire in the Golden area would adversely affect the water supply in Clear Creek, the city's source of drinking water.
"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 Professor Jörg Drewes.
The study found that rain runoff mixes leftover wildfire debris and sediment that can thwart purifying mechanisms inside downstream water treatment plants.
"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," Drewes said.
Here's a link to the study: http://tinyurl.com/7lee3pa
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