Biological filtration is resilient to wildfire ash-associated organic carbon threats to drinking water treatment

13 January 2023, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Elevated/altered levels of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in water can be challenging to treat after wildfire. Biologically-mediated treatment removes some DOM; its ability to remove elevated/altered post-fire dissolved organic carbon (DOC) resulting from wildfire ash was investigated for the first time. Treatment of wildfire ash-amended (low, moderate, high) source waters by bench-scale biofilters was evaluated in duplicate. Turbidity and DOC were typically well-removed (effluent turbidity ≤ 0.3 NTU; average DOC removal ~20%) in all biofilters during periods of stable source water quality. Daily DOC removal across all biofilters (ash-amended and controls) was generally consistent, suggesting that (i) the biofilter DOC biodegradation capacity was not deleteriously impacted by the ash and (ii) the biofilters buffered the ash-associated increases in water extractable organic matter. DOM fractionation indicates this was because the biodegradable low molecular weight neutral fractions of DOM which increased with ash addition were reduced by biofiltration, while humic substances were largely recalcitrant. Thus, biological filtration was resilient to wildfire ash-associated DOM threats to drinking water treatment, but operational resilience may be compromised if the balance between readily removed and recalcitrant fractions of DOM change, as was observed during brief periods herein.


Slow sand filtration
natural disturbance
climate change adaptation

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information
Supporting Information contains: • S1: Additional water quality analyses (Figures S1-S34, Tables S1-S4) • S2: Statistical analyses (Equations S1-S4, Figures S35-S36, Tables S5-S8) • S3: Damkohler number II estimation (Equations S5-S20, Table S9)


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