How to protect reservoirs amidst increasing wildfires the focus of USU research

LOGAN — Utah State University’s College of Natural Resources and Aggie Air, a program that specializes in development and deployment of new technologies for use in remote sensing research, are partnering to study wildfires and how they impact the state’s watersheds, rivers, reservoirs and more.

On KVNU’s For the People program last week, Dr. Patrick Belmont, a department head in watershed sciences, said wildfires are going to be an increasing part of our future.

Wildfire has gone up twenty-fold in the last 30 years in the western U.S. Part of that is just because we were really good at suppressing fire for the decades before that and it was a little bit wetter as well. So, as things have gotten a little bit dryer we’ve got a lot of fuels in the forest now, so a lot of the fires that are being ignited now are just uncontrollable upon ignition,” said Dr. Belmont.

Each wildfire means more erosion, which leads to more silt and floating sediment in the rivers. The rivers eventually make their way to reservoirs which is water storage for the state.

“We’re looking at all 133 reservoirs throughout the state of Utah, and we’re trying to figure out which ones are most vulnerable to post-wildfire erosion,” Dr. Belmont added. “Once we identify which ones are most vulnerable, then we can start thinking about what do we do about it.”

Dr. Belmont acknowledged that not all wildfire is bad. The West naturally tends to burn, but it’s a matter of how it burns. So rather than thinking of a future without fires, he said we need to think about how to shift it to lower severity fires.

AUDIO: Dr. Patrick Belmont talks to Jason Williams on KVNU’s For the People

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