UC Berkeley Professor Says Wildfires Create Opportunity for California to Increase Water Supply

An environmental expert said the wildfires ravaging California are creating a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the state to increase its water supply.

Dr. Scott Stephens, a UC Berkeley professor of fire science, said he sees a silver lining in all the smoke from the many wildfires raging in the state.

"We need forest restoration on these lands," he said.

Stephens said, if done right, California might see the kind of results that restoration projects have already produced at Yosemite National Park.

"We've also seen about a 20 percent increase in water yield from these acres with the same amount of water input," he said. "So there's really a 20 percent increase of water going down the mountain."

Stephens said 100 years ago there were about 50 trees per acre on average in California forests. But programs designed to maximize timber production have led to about 400 trees per acre, which also takes up a lot of water.

"They're worried about aquatic ecosystems -- insect and fish," Stephens said. "Maybe these things would retain water longer by having more water in the channels versus going up into the forest canopy."

There are currently about 20,000 acres per year under restoration. Stephens said that number needs to increase 10-fold and very soon.

"If we don't do this today our kids and grand kids will one day be shaking their heads and wondering why we didn't act," he said.

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