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Wildland Fire: Risk to Watersheds

Forests are crucial in the production of clean drinking water in the Appalachian region, where heavily forested watersheds supply water to the densely populated Eastern states. The U.S. Forest Service’s Forests to Faucets project is a national-scale spatial assessment identifying forested areas important for surface drinking water and potential risks to those forests posed by development, insects and disease, and wildland fire.

The assessment uses input models for precipitation and evapotranspiration to estimate water supply and estimates water demand from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on the number of people depending on water from out-takes in different watersheds. Through this supply-and-demand approach, the relative importance of different watersheds is estimated. Forest cover within each watershed is also estimated in order to identify places where forests are most important in the production of heavily utilized drinking water.

Models that estimate the risk of threatening processes, including wildland fire, are then compared to the forest importance model to determine levels of threat in different watersheds. The risk of wildland fire is estimated by measuring forest, climatic, and human infrastructure (e.g., road access) conditions that are thought to be favorable for wildfire ignition and spread. This assessment provides spatial data that can help identify areas important for protecting surface water quality in broad-scale planning contexts, and can help identify areas for further local analysis. Maps generated from these data are also useful as education tools for illustrating links between forest dynamics and the sustainability of clean water supplies.

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Last modified: 
12/16/2015 - 22:07