Enhancing Reclamation’s Watershed Model to Predict Post-Fire Sediment Delivery to Reservoirs and Assess Management Actions.

Project ID: 22077
Principal Investigator: Benjamin Abban
Research Topic: Sediment Management and River Restoration
Funded Fiscal Years: 2022, 2023 and 2024
Keywords: None

Research Question

This research seeks to assist Reclamation managers to address the following questions:
• Given the occurrence of a wildfire (of a particular burn area and severity), can we predict the increased sediment delivery rate to a Reclamation reservoir in the next one to few years under different representative precipitation events?
• Which Reclamation facilities are likely to be significantly affected by wildfires in the future, in the face of climate change, and how can they be managed?
• From a dam safety perspective, how much bulking in water volume can be expected from increased sediment loads post-fire?

We hypothesize that only a physically-based (processes are represented by the first principle conservation laws), spatially-distributed (gridded/meshed), cross-scale (need for an accurate channel network solver) watershed model has the potential to predict current and future wildfire impacts on reservoir sedimentation, by adequately predicting resultant soil erosion and delivery to the channel network, and routing the delivered material to the reservoir.

Our questions and hypothesis above were largely formulated based on feedback we received from presentations we gave at Reclamation's S&T Wildfire Needs workshop (2021) and Reservoir Operators Workshop (2020). The feedback played a critical role in directing the proposed work in this research.

Need and Benefit

We will develop a tool for predicting post fire sediment production and reservoir sediment loads. Jenn Bountry facilitated coordination with an interagency team of experts on wildfire processes and representation in models. She also facilitated coordination with Dam Safety and Eastern CO Area Office advocates and technical advisors interested in the tool we are proposing for dam safety risk evaluations and for developing mitigation & adaptation strategies for reservoir management/operations.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 6/22/20