Discover Jemez Postwildfire Debris-Flow Hazards With the Click of a Mouse

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A new interactive map and companion report from the U.S. Geological Survey allows residents living in and around New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains to see where they’re located in relation to postwildfire debris-flow hazards.

Wildfire can drastically increase the probability of debris flows, a potentially hazardous and destructive geologic event, in landscapes that have otherwise been stable throughout recent history. 

The new map allows users to zoom into areas of interest in the Jemez Mountains to see specific postwildfire debris-flow hazards for that area. This tool will allow land managers and decision makers to prioritize areas for forest-thinning and other wildfire mitigation measures.

This study provides critical information for decision makers about where the highest risk for wildfire exists, as well as the greatest probability for flooding and debris flows afterwards,” said Laura McCarthy, The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico’s Conservation Director. “With this information, we’re able to prioritize areas for forest-thinning projects that best protect communities, water and wildlife.”

Partners include Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, Buckman Direct Diversion Board, Los Alamos County, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service.

“Many different agencies contributed funding to the study, demonstrating the high level of concern for postwildfire impacts on our water sources. No one can do this alone. From the science to the work on the ground, we must work together to protect our quality of life,” said McCarthy.

Results indicate that a 10 percent reduction in moderate and high burn severity areas for a basin produces a 15 percent reduction in postwildfire debris flow probability for that basin. This means that forest mitigation efforts (such as tree thinning etc.) taken to reduce burn severity will reduce possibilities of debris flows to an even greater degree.

 

Upper Frijoles Canyon, Jemez Mountains, following the Las Conchas wildfire, New Mexico
Upper Frijoles Canyon, Jemez Mountains, following the Las Conchas wildfire, New Mexico.

 

Debris flow in small tributary to Frijoles Canyon, Bandelier National Monument
Photograph of debris flow in small tributary to Frijoles Canyon, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico. May 2015.Barbara Judy, National Park Service