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A Regional-Scale Index for Assessing the Exposure of Drinking-Water Sources to Wildfires

1
Canada Wildfire, Renewable Resources, 751 General Services Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2H1, Canada
2
Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA
3
Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2H1, Canada
4
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada
5
Canada Wildfire, Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2H1, Canada
6
Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service, Northern Forestry Centre, 5320 122 St., Edmonton, AB T6H 3S5, Canada
7
Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service; Great Lake Forestry Centre, 1219 Queen Street East, Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6A 2E5, Canada
8
Department of Geography, University of Lethbridge, Alberta Water and Environmental Science Building, 4401 University Drive, Lethbridge, AB T1K-3M4, Canada
9
Applied Behavioral Ecology and Ecosystems Research Unit, University of South Africa, P.O. Box 392, Florida, Pretoria 1710, South Africa
10
Faculty of Social Sciences, Brock University, Niagara Region, 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1, Canada
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2019, 10(5), 384; https://doi.org/10.3390/f10050384
Received: 9 March 2019 / Revised: 15 April 2019 / Accepted: 28 April 2019 / Published: 30 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Managing Forests and Water for People under a Changing Environment)
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Abstract

Recent human-interface wildfires around the world have raised concerns regarding the reliability of freshwater supply flowing from severely burned watersheds. Degraded source water quality can often be expected after severe wildfire and can pose challenges to drinking water facilities by straining treatment response capacities, increasing operating costs, and jeopardizing their ability to supply consumers. Identifying source watersheds that are dangerously exposed to post-wildfire hydrologic changes is important for protecting community drinking-water supplies from contamination risks that may lead to service disruptions. This study presents a spatial index of watershed exposure to wildfires in the province of Alberta, Canada, where growing water demands coupled with increasing fire activity threaten municipal drinking-water supplies. Using a multi-criteria analysis design, we integrated information regarding provincial forest cover, fire danger, source water volume, source-water origin (i.e., forested/un-forested), and population served. We found that (1) >2/3 of the population of the province relies on drinking-water supplies originating in forested watersheds, (2) forest cover is the most important variable controlling final exposure scores, and (3) watersheds supplying small drinking water treatment plants are particularly exposed, especially in central Alberta. The index can help regional authorities prioritize the allocation of risk management resources to mitigate adverse impacts from wildfire. The flexible design of this tool readily allows its deployment at larger national and continental scales to inform broader water security frameworks. View Full-Text
Keywords: post-fire hydrology; source water protection; drinking-water security; multi-criteria analysis; “Forests to Faucets”; community drinking-water; compound wildfire-water risk post-fire hydrology; source water protection; drinking-water security; multi-criteria analysis; Forests to Faucets; community drinking-water; compound wildfire-water risk
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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MDPI and ACS Style

Robinne, F.-N.; Bladon, K.D.; Silins, U.; Emelko, M.B.; Flannigan, M.D.; Parisien, M.-A.; Wang, X.; Kienzle, S.W.; Dupont, D.P. A Regional-Scale Index for Assessing the Exposure of Drinking-Water Sources to Wildfires. Forests 2019, 10, 384.

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