Proactive Planning Tool to Reduce Wildfire Sedimentation Risks

Wildfire has increased 20-fold in the past four decades in the western US and projected warming is expected to further increase wildfire activity for the foreseeable future. After a wildfire, burned hillslopes exhibit profoundly altered hydrology, dramatically increasing erosion rates and under some conditions delivering large amounts of wood to nearby stream channels. Increased flood flows, as well as excessive amounts of sediment and wood delivered to the stream pose considerable risk to transportation infrastructure within and downstream from burned areas. Just two of hundreds of examples, post-wildfire flooding and sedimentation caused extensive damage to Highway 143 in Parowan Canyon in 2017 and US 89 near Birdseye, Utah in 2019. Given the recent and expected future increases in wildfire and related risks to transportation infrastructure, there is an urgent need to determine if, how, and where forest, fire, and infrastructure management practices could be most effective in reducing high severity fire, erosion, and downstream impacts to high-value transportation resources. The US Geological Survey provides maps of probable debris flows after a wildfire occurs, but this information falls far short of what is needed for long-term, proactive planning to minimize wildfire related risks to infrastructure. The research group has recently developed the only predictive tool to (1) determine possible debris flow risks prior to a wildfire occurring and (2) estimate how far downstream post-wildfire sedimentation risks may occur. The model is also designed to be run iteratively to explore implications of the full range of plausible fire and rainfall scenarios for each location. Adapting the existing post-wildfire sedimentation model to predict risks to transportation infrastructure will enable Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to identify potential risks prior to wildfires occurring. Further, the team's work with a broader stakeholder group will facilitate communication and partnerships between UDOT and other relevant state and federal agencies to take proactive forest, fire, and infrastructure management measures that reduce wildfire-related risks to transportation infrastructure. The existing post-wildfire sedimentation prediction model was developed, and has already been applied, to predict risks to water resource infrastructure. This model represents the most advanced and comprehensive approach available for predicting post-wildfire sedimentation risks at the watershed scale. Thus, adapting the model is the most straight-forward and robust way to evaluate wildfire-related risks to transportation infrastructure throughout the State. Given the limited amount of funding available to the UDOT Research & Innovation Division, this project represents a pilot study in which the research team will adapt the model for use with transportation infrastructure and make predictions in a few targeted locations, determined to be high-priority by the stakeholder group. Following this successful pilot study, the team would work with UDOT and other relevant state or federal agencies to obtain funding needed to predict risks to transportation infrastructure statewide. This long-term planning toolkit is complementary to the rapid assessment toolkit the team has outlined in another proposal. Specifically, this 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. In contrast, the rapid assessment toolkit would be designed for risk assessment immediately after a fire has occurred to inform Burned Area Emergency Response efforts.


    • English


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


    • 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

    • Principal Investigators:

      Belmont, Patrick

    • Start Date: 20220824
    • Expected Completion Date: 20241231
    • Actual Completion Date: 0

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01898276
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: Utah Department of Transportation
    • Contract Numbers: 238196
    • Files: RIP, STATEDOT
    • Created Date: Nov 6 2023 5:04PM