In this month’s episode of Deeply Talks, Water Deeply managing editor Matt Weiser discussed the American West’s dual challenges of water scarcity and wildfires with Crystal Kolden, associate professor of forest, rangeland and fire sciences in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho, and Van Butsic, assistant cooperative extension specialist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Wildfire affects the watersheds that in turn supply municipal drinking water, fulfill agricultural needs and support critical species across the West. That’s why the management of both forest and water resources is so closely intertwined – and why this issue has become more pressing. The West, Kolden explained, is seeing more fires across larger areas, and even changes to how these fires burn.
“Most of the water utilities in California now have extensive programs that address fire prevention and suppression and also forest management to alter the behavior of fires in their watersheds,” Kolden said. Outside of California, however, the level of preparedness varies, depending on how often the municipalities have seen the effect of wildfire on their watersheds firsthand.
But more and more areas that haven’t had to deal with wildfires are recognizing that with climate change, they will start to. “They’re very much understanding that this is something they’ll have to tackle if they aren’t already,” she said.