Burned forests impact water supplies

Abstract

Wildland fire impacts on surface freshwater resources have not previously been measured, nor factored into regional water management strategies. But, large wildland fires are increasing and raise concerns about fire impacts on potable water. Here we synthesize longterm records of wildland fire, climate, and river flow for 168 locations across the United States. We show that annual river flow changed in 32 locations, where more than 19% of the basin area was burned. Wildland fires enhanced annual river flow in the western regions with a warm temperate or humid continental climate. Wildland fires increased annual river flow most in the semi-arid Lower Colorado region, in spite of frequent droughts in this region. In contrast, prescribed burns in the subtropical Southeast did not significantly alter river flow. These extremely variable outcomes offer new insights into the potential role of wildfire and prescribed fire in regional water resource management, under a changing climate.

  • Citation: Hallema, Dennis W.; Sun, Ge; Caldwell, Peter V.; Norman, Steven P.; Cohen, Erika C.; Liu, Yongqiang; Bladon, Kevin D.; McNulty, Steven G. 2018. Burned forests impact water supplies. Nature Communications. 8 p.  10.1038/s41467-018-03735-6

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