Forested regions in northern and western Alberta provide approximately 88% of surface water supplies to Alberta’s population. It is critical that the risks associated with changes in water quality and the connections to upland forests are understood. One of the key risks arises from wildfires as these disturbances release a variety of contaminants into surface waters. These contaminants travel downstream to water utilities and may result in a range of possible outcomes from less severe (small change in operating costs) to more severe (shut-down of water utility and importation of water supplies). Recent increases in the magnitude of wildfires, along with increased provincial water demand, have resulted in a need to evaluate wildfire risk to downstream municipal drinking water supply and treatment systems. The project models the magnitude and likelihood of wildfire occurrences in source water regions in Alberta and combines fire/water transport and water utility cost models in order to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of existing and future management strategies for drinking water security.
Wildfires have been shown to worsen water quality, causing water utilities to adjust their operations in response. In extreme cases, water utilities may need to shut down on a temporary basis, thereby incurring costs to local communities affected. It is necessary to identify the potential costs associated with wildfire events and compare these to potential benefits associated with upstream land management and resource development. This research will develop an over-arching model to link ecological effects with economic outcomes, as well as to estimate water utility costs that are sensitive to changes in water quality. While such models have been described in general terms in the literature, this research team has developed and calibrated a model specific to the current Alberta situation. The results from this project will provide municipal water utilities in Alberta and AESRD with a complete analysis of wildfire risks to drinking water treatment in Alberta.
This research has been disseminated through several presentations:
This research project has held several key end-user oriented meetings and workshops:
Major Research Papers from HQPs:
Outcomes to date include: