Reuters

Early this spring, water bills arrived with notes urging Fort Collins Utilities customers to conserve. The Colorado customers may have thought the issue was persistent drought in the U.S. West.

But the problem was not the quantity of water available. It was the quality.

Utilities are increasingly paying attention to a little-known impact of large-scale fires: water contamination.

Huge forest fires last year denuded vast areas of Colorado’s mountains and left them covered in ash – ash that with sediment has since been washed by rains into the Cache la Poudre River. The river is one of two sources for household water in this college town of 165,000. With more and fiercer storms expected this year, officials worry about water quality worsening beyond what treatment systems can handle.

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