Hillslope Erosion and Water Quality from the Rim Fire, Sierra Nevada, CA

Friday, 19 December 2014
Tim J Kuhn1, Lauren J Austin2, Harrison Forrester1, Stephen B DeLong3, Rebecca Lever4 and James W Roche1,4, (1)Yosemite National Park, Division of Resources Management and Science, El Portal, CA, United States, (2)Yosemite National Park, El Portal, CA, United States, (3)US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, United States, (4)UC Merced, Merced, CA, United States
The Rim Fire in 2013 burned approximately 1036 km2 in the Sierra Nevada (including 312 km2 within Yosemite National Park), generating considerable public concern regarding potential impacts to the Tuolumne River watershed, in terms of water quality and water supply infrastructure serving the City of San Francisco. Land management responses included a multi-million dollar watershed treatment project on USFS lands near Cherry Creek, with similar actions suggested for areas in the Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor watersheds. In response to the concern that the post-burn landscape will negatively impact water quality, we are investigating hydrologic effects and hillslope erosion in two small burned basins (2.2 and 5.2 km2) within the Tuolumne River basin in Yosemite National Park. Within a month after fire containment, sites were equipped with instrumentation to record stream stage, turbidity, and total suspended sediment. We also installed 21 sediment fences that trap all sediment silt sized and larger on moderate (20%) to steep (50%) hillslopes from 100 m2 plots within moderate and high severity burn areas. Accumulated sediment is collected, weighed, and sub-sampled after each storm event, and, analyzed for dry weight, particle size, gravimetric water content, bulk density, pH, color, carbon and nitrogen content from % fine organics, and % coarse organics. As of July 31, 2014, four discrete storm events had been sampled. Data are used to calculate annual sediment yield, and to investigate organic carbon storage, deposition, and transport. We are also collecting repeat terrestrial laser scans to assess topographic change and identify the hillslope processes that contribute to erosion and deposition at plot- and hillslope-scale. These findings provide analogs for possible changes in adjacent burned areas and to inform management decisions in response to future fires and potential impacts to water quality in areas valued by the park, the City of San Francisco and other beneficial uses of water from Hetch Hetchy reservoir.