Effects of Wildfire on Water Supplies: A Case Study from Denver, Colorado

by Deborah A. Martin,
John A. Moody,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Watershed Management and Operations Management 2000


Wildfires can directly impact municipal water supplies by increasing a watersheds susceptibility to erosion, and thereby potentially increasing the transport of sediment and organic matter into water impoundments during rainfall runoff. The hydrologic characteristics of watersheds are altered by the combustion of the vegetation and the ground cover (such as leaves, needles and small branches), which protect the soil from raindrop impact. In addition, the wildfire can chemically and physically alter the soils to make them more resistant to wetting. In May 1996, a 4,820 hectares tire burned most of the Buffalo Creek and Spring Creek watersheds in the Front Range just southwest of Denver, Colorado. Downstream from the watersheds is Strontia Springs Reservoir, which supplies more than 75% of the municipal water for the cities of Denver and Aurora, Colorado. Two months after the fire a 13 cm/hour rainstorm caused severe flooding, erosion, and transport of sediment from the burnt area. The input of sediment and burnt trees caused loss of storage capacity increases in dissolved manganese, and a general deterioration of water quality in Strontia Springs Reservoir.

Subject Headings: Municipal water | Watersheds | Water supply | Water supply systems | Sediment transport | Case studies | Wild fires | United States | Colorado | Denver | California

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