The impact of the High Park Wildfire on stream water quality and implications for drinking water treatment

Friday, 19 December 2014
Fernando Rosario-Ortiz, University of Colorado at Boulder, Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, Boulder, CO, United States
The Cache La Poudre (CLP) watershed in Northern Colorado was impacted by the High Park fire, which burned from June 9th through July 1st of 2012. The CLP watershed serves as a source of drinking water for three water districts in Northern Colorado, including the City of Fort Collins. Sampling was conducted during four different storm events immediately after the fire was extinguished. The sampling was expanded through spring and summer 2013 in order to capture the flush of debris from the wildfire into the CLP River. Samples were also collected from an unburned control site for comparison. Surface water samples were analyzed for parameters including nutrients, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration and dissolved organic matter (DOM) characterization. In addition, bench scale treatment analyses were conducted to better understand the impacts of the wildfire on treatment processes for drinking water utilities. Lastly, leaching of stream bank sediments was conducted to determine the potential longer term inputs of burned material to the stream water. The overarching goals of the sampling campaign were to: 1) Evaluate the impact that wildfires have on the properties of DOM, specifically with respect to DBP formation and speciation (TTHM, HAA5, HAN, NDMA); 2) Establish the condition under which the source water could be effectively treated (using coagulation) to remove DBP precursors; 3) Evaluate the use of fluorescence spectroscopy as a surrogate for the concentration and reactivity of DOM in the CLP watershed; and 4) Assess the quantity and quality of DOM leached from streambed sediments. Preliminary results showed elevated DOC levels during the storm events and at wildfire impacted sites compared to the unburned site following the fire. DBP yields were higher for the four storm events following the fire when compared to yields for the control site located upstream of the burn area, and also when compared to data from a previous DBP study conducted on similar Colorado source waters in 2010. Fluorescence spectroscopy shows promise as a tool for discerning differences in DOM quality between burned and unburned areas of the CLP watershed. Ultimately, the results of this study will offer insight for recovering this watershed as a sustainable water source and will prepare utilities for future wildfires.