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Drinking Water Under Fire: Water Utilities’ Vulnerability to Wildfires in the Pacific Northwest

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Created: Jan 22, 2023 at 3:01 p.m.
Last updated: Jan 23, 2023 at 1:35 p.m.
DOI: 10.4211/hs.75d565f76a9c4f04990b1538201010d1
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Sharing Status: Published
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Increased wildfire activity in the western US can lead to detrimental cascading effects to water quality. After fires, burned areas may experience significant runoff-induced erosion and sediment transport into rivers and reservoirs, which could rapidly overwhelm existing drinking water treatment plants. This paper couples an assessment of wildfire risk with an evaluation of water utility preparedness to understand where key fire-related drinking water vulnerabilities exist. Wildfire risk assessments were constructed based on existing methodologies described in the academic literature to assess fire impacts in watersheds used by water utilities. A water utility preparedness index was created for this study using publicly available information to contextualize how well utilities may be able to respond to water quality degradation after fires. Based on the available data, results indicate that roughly one-third of utilities studied (representing 12% of the population served) were underprepared for fire and one-third used watersheds at greater risk of wildfire (representing 26% of the population served). However, only four utilities (2% of the population served) were likely underprepared and at greater risk of fire. The information developed here could provide a useful framework from which utility managers can better assess their likely wildfire risk and preparation plans relative to others should a fire occur.

Subject Keywords



Coordinate System/Geographic Projection:
WGS 84 EPSG:4326
Coordinate Units:
Decimal degrees
Place/Area Name:
Pacific Northwest of US: Idaho, Washington and Oregon
North Latitude
East Longitude
South Latitude
West Longitude


Related Resources

This resource has been replaced by a newer version Robichaud, P. (2023). Drinking Water Under Fire: Water Utilities’ Vulnerability to Wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, HydroShare,


Funding Agencies

This resource was created using funding from the following sources:
Agency Name Award Title Award Number
NASA NASA Water Resources Program 80NSSC19K1197


People or Organizations that contributed technically, materially, financially, or provided general support for the creation of the resource's content but are not considered authors.

Name Organization Address Phone Author Identifiers
Julie Padowski Washington State University WA, US 5093358539

How to Cite

Robichaud, P. (2023). Drinking Water Under Fire: Water Utilities’ Vulnerability to Wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, HydroShare,

This resource is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA.


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