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Long-term effects of forest fires pose threats to drinking water

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Forest fires are sweeping North America with detrimental environmental, economic and human impacts. A research team, led by University of Waterloo Engineering professor Monica Emelko, will receive $5.5 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Strategic Partnership Grant for Networks to provide new knowledge on the impacts of different forest management strategies on drinking water source quality and treatability. The network is co-led by professor Uldis Silins, a forest hydrologist from the University of Alberta, with whom Emelko co-leads the Southern Rockies Watershed Project. They were the first group cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in identifying climate change-associated threats to global drinking water security through water quality.

“High-quality water supplies such as those in many parts of North America are at greatest risk from the threats of natural disturbances such as wildfires and floods,” said Monica Emelko, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and University of Waterloo Water Institute member. “These disturbances, exacerbated by climate change, are increasing in severity and are likely to result in a long-lasting legacy of water quality deterioration in several parts of Canada.”

In Ontario alone, there have been over 120 fires this summer, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Disturbances like forest fires are having an increasingly negative effect on source water and are posing a challenge to the design and operational response capacities of water quality treatment plants. In some cases, such disturbances have caused service disruptions.

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