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The Negative Effects of California Wildfires on Water Quality

There is a seemingly permanent haze is on the horizon. At times, the gray cloud of dust and smoke comes closer, causing a tickle in the back of your throat. These are some of the immediate changes residents in towns and localities near the California wildfires notice.

Despite these clear signs of wildfires and the destruction they cause for wildlife and many homeowners, there are other, less apparent consequences of fires. One other natural resource affected by wildfires is water. However, what happens to water quality as a result of wildfires?

Unfortunately, there are many ways that wildfires affect water quality. Here are a few:


Burning during a wildfire makes plenty of ash that sits on top of the soil. As a result, instead of absorbing water, the dirt washes away during rainstorms. This disrupts the natural way that watersheds function. Also, it contributes to another problem: contamination.


When the eroded ash flows into streams and rivers, it means that when the water arrives at the treatment plant, it may require additional treatments. This is also because particles from the fire enter the water that are higher in iron and manganese content.

Depending on the chemical properties of the water arriving at the treatment plant, other changes may also require changes to water treatment processes for potable water. Contamination may also arrive through the air in the form of the smoke that settles on lakes and rivers.

Urban vs. Forest

The contamination and consequences of wildfires also depend on what type of area gets burned. Forest fires result in fewer contaminants or less toxic contaminants. However, when urban areas burn, more serious contaminants are released into the environment. This is due to the chemicals and toxins present in many building materials such as vinyl, insulation, adhesives and more. In cases where fires burned urban areas or houses, contamination can have severe effects on natural bodies of water and the flora and fauna that live there.

How Long Do Effects Last?

The effects of forest fires can last for many years. Trace metals and other contaminants remain in higher levels in bodies of water following a wildfire for a long time. Also, the effects on whole ecosystems are long-lasting, especially when large numbers of animals, such as fish, are killed. The damage can begin as soon as a fire starts. Effects can also reach far across a watershed and don’t remain localized to the areas close to the fire.

What Does It Mean For You?

Because local authorities manage water resources and treatment plants work hard to keep your water clean, you may think it doesn’t matter what wildfires do to water quality. However, in Southern California, wildfires and the water quality are issues that are very close to home. Why?

According to USGS, in the southwestern USA, about half of the water supply is from forests. In fact, the majority of freshwater resources originate on land that is forested. That means that when forest fires happen in the area, it is likely that the fires are affecting your water source.

For residents in the area, this means that you should consider a few actions:

Check Reports

California offers water quality reports based on your region. Check your district periodically, especially when there is a wildfire event in progress, or there has been one recently. These reports can also detail contaminants so that you’re aware of exactly what’s going on.

Consider Installing a Filter

Another safety measure you can take is installing a water filter in your home. You can install this sort of system so that it protects your entire property or install it to offer filtration for one faucet. Of course, a filter system doesn’t protect from all contaminants, but it does help. It can ensure that should anything happen at the central treatment plant; major contaminants get filtered from your water. A trusted plumber can help you with a filter installation.

Wildfires are common in Southern California, and it doesn’t appear that they’re going away anytime soon. As a result, it’s vital for us all to stay aware of the effects they have on our ecosystems, especially concerning water quality. Not only does water quality affect the natural environment, but it is also vital in our own lives. Most importantly, staying aware of your water quality is essential for your health.

Worried about your water quality? If you’d like to install a filter system in your home, call the experts at Orange Coast Plumbing.