As forests burn around the world, drinking water is at risk

New Mexico

A boom floats across a small bay near the dam wall at Warragamba Dam in Warragamba, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Although there have been no major impacts on drinking water yet from the intense wildfires, authorities know from experience that the risks will be elevated for years while the damaged catchment areas, including pine and eucalyptus forests, recover. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Australia’s wildfires have illuminated a growing global concern over water quality.

That’s because forests, grasslands and other natural areas that supply drinking water to millions of people are increasingly vulnerable to fire in a hotter, drier world.

More than 60% of the water for the world’s 100 largest cities originates in fire-prone watersheds.

And countless smaller communities also rely on surface water.

But storms can dump far more water in a shorter period than in the past.

That means ash, sediment and debris from burned areas can quickly wash into waterways.

Affected areas include the Western U.S., where 65% of water supplies originate in forested watersheds. Experts say communities need to prepare for more impacts.

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