Wildfires that wracked southeastern Australia for months laid waste to millions of acres of land, and as a terrible consequence, is causing widespread water pollution. As rain washes over the charred land, literally tons of ash, debris and chemicals are carried into streams, rivers and other waterways, which has created huge fishkills and contaminated water supplies.
What’s worse, climate change is expected to continue to increase the probability of wildfires and their intensity. The Australian wildfires are only the most recent – and extreme – example of fire’s impacts on water quality.
In fact, as the climate warms, droughts become more severe, and the incidence, intensity, and duration of wildfires increases, more rivers and streams worldwide are being adversely affected by ash and debris pouring into aquatic ecosystems in the wake of blazes.
Not only does the polluted water harm drinking water resources for humans and wildlife, but aquatic species have been devastated. Large fishkills have been recorded at 14 sites throughout Australia, and low-end estimates by scientists are that hundreds of thousands of fish have been killed.