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Watershed sediment yield following the 2018 Carr Fire, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, northern California

September 3, 2021

Wildfire risk has increased in recent decades over many regions, due to warming climate and other factors. Increased sediment export from recently burned landscapes can jeopardize downstream infrastructure and water resources, but physical landscape response to fire has not been quantified for some at-risk areas, including much of northern California, USA. We measured sediment yield from three watersheds (13–29 km2) that drain to Whiskeytown Lake, California, within the area burned by the 2018 Carr Fire. Structure-from-Motion photogrammetry on aerial images combined with sonar bathymetric mapping of submerged areas indicated first-year post-fire sediment yields of 4,080 ± 598 t/km2 (Brandy Creek), 2,700 ± 527 t/km2 (Boulder Creek), and 305 ± 58.0 t/km2 (Whiskey Creek)—some of the first post-fire yields measured in northern California and 64, 42, and 4.8 times greater than pre-fire yields, respectively. These were measured during a wet year and resulted largely from rilling erosion and fluvial sediment transport, without post-fire debris flows. Rilling preferentially developed in contact with dirt roads, aided by thin soils and exposed bedrock, and on slopes vegetated by chaparral pre-fire. The second post-fire year (a dry year) was characterized by fluvial reworking and delta progradation of the first-year deposits and relatively little new sediment export. First-year sedimentation of 111,000 m3 represented minor loss of storage capacity in Whiskeytown Lake but would be detrimental to smaller reservoirs; in general, increased sediment yields from western US watersheds as fire and extreme rainfall increase will likely pose risks to water quality and storage.

Publication Year 2021
Title Watershed sediment yield following the 2018 Carr Fire, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, northern California
DOI 10.1029/2021EA001828
Authors Amy E. East, Joshua B. Logan, Peter Dartnell, Oren Lieber-Kotz, David B. Cavagnaro, Scott W. McCoy, Donald N. Lindsay
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth and Space Science
Index ID 70224925
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center