Fire and water

One of the hidden constituencies for forest health is downstream water users. Western wildfires can really muck up a watershed, creating problems when bad fire happens and therefore significant incentives to try to keep it from happening.

Today’s case in point, from my colleague Rene Romo, is the Little Bear fire in southern New Mexico:

When more than five inches of rain fell in the area of Bonito Lake, a man-made reservoir located in the White Mountain Wilderness, between July 5 and 9, the lake was inundated with silt, ash and burn debris, rendering the reservoir useless as a source of water to Alamogordo and Holloman Air Force Base. Bonito Lake represents about 15 percent of Alamogordo’s water supply, and the city is relying on other sources to fill the gap while hiring a contractor to determine what is needed to unclog an intake line and dredge the lake, said Alamogordo city manager Matt McNeile.

In the meantime, the city has five pumps sucking water out of the reservoir to free up capacity for the next time rainfall sends large amounts of silt and black ash down the watershed, McNeile said.

At another Lincoln County reservoir, Alto Lake, crews are working to remove 70,000 cubic yards of debris to increase the lake’s ability to absorb run-off.

Lots of helpful background on this issue from the folks at Carpe Diem West’s Healthy Headwaters Program.