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Wildfires, smoke and ash: impacts to local water

What impacts, if any, with the smoke and ash resulting from wildfires have on our local water?

Posted: Sep 16, 2020 10:27 AM
Updated: Sep 16, 2020 10:37 AM

CHICO, Calif. – Anyone who has stepped outdoors in the past several days can probably agree that it looks bad, smells bad and air quality managers have said the result has been "unhealthy" air quality.

Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough wanted to find out if particles in the air from all the wildfires and resulting smoke and ash, is destined to have an impact on local water. She turned to a Chico State University water researcher for answers.

The scenes across California have been nothing short of “other worldly.” Chico State water researcher Dr. Jackson Webster, a civil engineer, says there is a bright spot in all of this: he says we don't need to worry about harmful impacts to our water.

"Our water quality is not likely to be impacted by the ash falling to the ground,” says Dr. Webster.

A nationally recognized water researcher, Dr. Webster took part in a number of studies on wildfire impacts to waterways after the Camp Fire.

Yarbough reached out to him to ask, what does this latest round of fires mean for our local water?

He explained, our region's drinking water supply is ground water; meaning – it is from the mountains and has been underground a long time. He says the ground serves as a natural filter for the water.

"It is moving pathogens and particles and it is high-quality water not impacted by wildfire,” says Dr. Webster.

He says there is a slight possibility that Lake Oroville, which is one of the state's largest reservoirs could feel some impacts.

Dr. Webster says if our region gets lots of rain in the fall, we could see ash and charcoal and debris contaminating the reservoir.

“There could be long term water quality impacts to the reservoir.”

Dr. Webster says for any long-term impacts, state water managers will need to stay alert to watch for any changes in water quality and be able to adapt water treatment technology as needed.

The bottom line when it comes to ash and smoke and a link between our water? Dr. Webster says it looks and smells worse than it is.
Yarbough asked Dr. Webster about any possible impacts to wildlife. He says wildfire is a natural part of the Sierra Nevada ecology and eco-system, so wildlife and fish tend to adapt quickly.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 923648

Reported Deaths: 17559
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles3050707044
Riverside675521306
San Bernardino641311073
Orange594421468
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Kern34114420
Fresno31195439
Sacramento25882499
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Chico
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Oroville
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We're closing out the month of October on a beautiful note weather-wise over northern California with plenty of sunshine and above-average temperatures. Halloween will bring slightly warmer temperatures and more sunshine.
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