Geospatial Toolkit for Rapid Assessment of Post-Wildfire Sedimentation Risks to Infrastructure

Wildfires are a natural part of the western landscape. However, we have observed a 20-fold increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires over the last 40 years. Post-wildfire landscapes exhibit profoundly altered hydrology, causing increased runoff generation after rainfall events. The increased runoff in turn causes extensive erosion to the landscape, delivering large volumes of sediment and woody debris to river channels. Additionally, the increased runoff causes larger floods. Both the increased flood sizes and the increased wood and sediment amounts in rivers can pose direct risks to transportation infrastructure. For instance, Highway 143 in Parowan Canyon in 2017 and US 89 near Birdseye, Utah in 2019 were extensively damaged due to post-wildfire flooding and sedimentation. Given the recent increase in wildfire activity in the western United States, there is a pressing need for the development of a model framework to rapidly assess post-wildfire sedimentation risks to transportation infrastructure. To date, the research team has developed the state-of-science toolkit which predicts post-wildfire erosion and sedimentation in burned landscapes. While other tools exist (e.g. WEPP-PEP, US Geological Survey debris flow hazard assessments) to model post-fire erosion, this toolkit is the only one that explores erosion from multiple mechanisms, provides estimates of what fraction of the sediment is delivered to rivers, and routes sediment downstream. Notably, this toolkit was developed in cooperation with the National Director of the USFS Burned Area Emergency Response program as well as other local, state, and federal agency staff. The toolkit was designed to explore the impacts of sedimentation on reservoirs in post-wildfire landscapes. Here the team will expand their toolkit to allow rapid assessment of where the most severe damages may occur to transportation infrastructure following a wildfire, which would allow for targeted efforts to try to minimize damages. To accomplish this goal, the team will extend their model framework to allow users to input Geographic Information System (GIS) layers of interest (e.g. roads, culverts, bridges) into the toolkit to estimate what infrastructure might be impacted following a wildfire event. Hence, further development of the toolkit to take input features such as roads, culverts, and bridges to quickly assess which locations are vulnerable to post-wildfire erosion would ensure assessments are performed with the most advanced model to date for analyzing post-wildfire sedimentation and erosion. This rapid assessment toolkit is complementary to the longer-term planning toolkit the team has outlined in another proposal. Specifically, this toolkit is designed for risk assessment immediately after a fire has occurred, whereas the long-term planning toolkit will simulate hypothetical wildfires to identify where the greatest risks exist throughout the state, so proactive measures can be taken prior to a wildfire occurring in those locations. Utah government agencies will be able to employ the toolkit proposed here to assess what transportation infrastructure would be impacted following a wildfire. Utah agencies could use the information derived from the toolkit to immediately begin to mitigate potential damages as part of the Burned Area Emergency Response efforts. Informed prioritization of locations for mitigation efforts and rapid response times should lower the financial cost of these events and help reduce interruptions to transportation.


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    • Status: Active
    • Funding: $70000
    • Contract Numbers:

      UDOT 23-8121

    • Sponsor Organizations:

      Utah Department of Transportation

      4501 South 2700 West
      Project Development
      Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84114-8380
    • Managing Organizations:

      Utah Department of Transportation

      4501 South 2700 West
      Project Development
      Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84114-8380
    • Project Managers:

      Chamberlin, Robert

    • Performing Organizations:

      Utah State University

      Logan, Utah  United States  84322
    • Principal Investigators:

      David, Scott

    • Start Date: 20230804
    • Expected Completion Date: 20241231
    • Actual Completion Date: 0

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01898275
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: Utah Department of Transportation
    • Contract Numbers: UDOT 23-8121
    • Files: RIP, STATEDOT
    • Created Date: Nov 6 2023 4:54PM