To minimise the risk of wildfire WaterNSW has fire management plans for
all Special Areas including hazard reduction burns and fire
What is wildfire research?
Wildfire research involves understanding how wildfires impact the vegetation communities within the WaterNSW drinking water catchments. We monitor and analyse vegetation fuel loads using remote sensing technology (satellite imagery interpretation).
We also monitor post-wildfire impacts on vegetation communities, analysing their recovery through time and whether extreme events have long-term impacts on the supply of water from the catchments.
Post-fire erosion and nutrient supply to drainage networks has also been investigated.
Why do we need it?
WaterNSW in partnership with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) manages more than 9,500 sq km of forested catchments that are susceptible to naturally occurring wildfires. Sometimes these can be contained, other times they cause widespread damage.
In 2001 a series of lightning strikes caused extensive wildfires across 2,250 sq km of forested water supply catchment managed by WaterNSW and OEH. The combination of drought, thick vegetation, strong north-westerly winds and low humidity helped fuel the fires.
The extent and severity of the destruction prompted us to commence an ongoing and comprehensive scientific investigation into the impacts of wildfire on vegetation management, catchment health, erosion, water quality and quantity.
Wildfires are large, uncontrolled bushfires that can result in complete
destruction of plants, trees and subsoil bacteria
What have we learned so far?
Our research since 2001 has provided us with a better understanding of the short and long-term effects of wildfire on vegetation management, catchment health, erosion and water quality.
Our research has shown us that most vegetation communities in WaterNSW's area of operations recover from extensive wildfire impacts within seven years, with little or no long-term impact on water supply quantities.
How has our research information been used?
Findings from the research are used to update WaterNSW's Fire Management Policy and bi-annual fire management plans, incorporating the latest information on vegetation fuel loads and best management practices. Our research also helps us to decide how we conduct hazard reduction burns.
The scientific data we have gathered (for example the interaction of water, soil properties and topography, fire ecology and vegetation dynamics) has been presented at many conferences around the world and published in scientific papers.
What are the plans for the future?
Research is being undertaken collaboratively with the University of Sydney to understand nutrient exports (phosphorous and nitrogen) from fire affected landscapes, and the recovery of different vegetation communities in Special Areas affected by significant wildfire events.
This information helps us to prepare and plan for wildfire events in the catchments.