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including 18,500 acres of the Huntington Creek Watershed just below Electric Lake in the bottom half of the basin. This constitutes nearly half (46%) of the total watershed area of 40,100 acres. The fire was allowed to burn naturally for some time as there were limited fire crews available during that period and the steep terrain made fighting this fire particularly dangerous. Containment was achieved in mid to late July.
Figure 1. Burned portion of the Huntington Creek Watershed (grey shaded area) with the Seeley fire perimeter in red.
The impact fires have on water supply and stream flow in high‐relief areas of the intermountain West can be complex. Generally in the first few years after a fire, snowmelt can be accelerated due to: (1) carbon/dust/organic material deposition on the snow surface; (2) the volume of standing blackened timber changing the albedo (reflectivity) of the snowpack; and (3) the reduction in canopy cover in areas that formerly sustained evergreen forest. Snowmelt can consequently be advanced as much as 6 weeks, or more. These conditions can also lead to greater snowpack losses to wind erosion and sublimation. Conversely, the lack of forest cover can increase the amount of snow on the ground that would normally be intercepted by the forest canopy, and, particularly in the decade or two after the fire, may lead to higher overall April‐July stream flow. However, in the first few post‐fire years with low snow packs and with long periods between storms, the net effect can be lower overall snow water equivalent on the ground with early melt. Some of the runoff that would normally have occurred in the April‐July time frame could happen in March or earlier. As an example – Snow density is an indicator of when melt will occur. In Utah, snow melt typically begins when the snow pack reaches about 35% to 40% density. The Box Creek SNOTEL on Monroe Mountain was burned last year similar to the Huntington fire. Currently the snow density at Box Creek is 32%, which is rather advanced for this time of year, whereas surrounding site densities are in a more normal 25% density. The snow pack at Box Creek in the middle of a burn area is far closer to melting conditions than the surrounding area. Water supply forecast models are geared to predict the April‐July runoff season based on observed snowpack and other variables. There are no data sites inside the Huntington Creek burn area and data used in the hydrologic models are from non‐impacted nearby sites. As such, we anticipate that runoff on Huntington Creek will be shifted to an earlier time frame due to the burn conditions in the watershed and that the April‐July forecast is likely to overestimate the April‐July stream flow. These conditions could persist for several years. It is also important to note that the inflow to Electric Lake will not be impacted. There are other water supply concerns for the Huntington Creek watershed. A precipitation event on August 1 dropped an estimated 1.25 inches of rain over the burn area which resulted in debris flows that closed State Highway 31 for nearly a week. Given the steep terrain, the overall extent of the burn area, and the general low infiltration soil type of the area, the potential for mass wasting events or significant erosion/sedimentation during the spring runoff season is considerable. This situation could be exacerbated by rain‐on‐snow events. Heavy sediment loads/organic material/ash in the stream flow can cause problems at diversion structures, clog or damage sprinkler systems and cause other damage to water supply infrastructure. The following photos from Huntington Canyon show some of the debris flow from the storm last August.
Photo: Kyle Ekker, from Incident Information System.
Photo: Kyle Ekker, Incident Information System.
Photo: Kyle Ekker, Incident Information System. Snow Survey personnel are manually monitoring conditions in accessible areas of Huntington Canyon. Results of our first data collection from the area showed a huge range of snow densities with many in the normal range (20%‐25%) and some more advanced (25%‐30%). Of note is that—even as high as 9000 ft elevation—many of the south facing hill slopes in the burn area currently have little or no snow.
Looking north in Huntington Canyon inside the burn area – notice the fragmented snowpack on the south facing slope versus the continuous snowpack in the canyon bottom.
Looking west in Huntington Canyon outside the burn area – snowpack on the south facing slope is more continuous from bottom to top than inside the burn area.
This photo shows a south facing slope with a discontinuous snowpack which is likely due to fire impacts.
Carbon/dust layers in the snowpack from wind and storm events. Notice also, the darkened snow surface from carbon and dust deposition. This area will melt out far in advance of surrounding non‐burn areas.
Carbon and dust deposition on the snow surface.
South facing aspect nearly melted off and carbon/dust deposition on the snow surface.
Water users that rely on Huntington Creek are advised that the April‐July flow will likely be less than the 50% exceedance number and for planning purposes are advised to use a lower figure such as the 70% exceedance number.
================================================================================================================================= PRICE – SAN RAFAEL Streamflow Forecasts - March 1, 2013 ================================================================================================================================= | <<====== Drier ====== Future Conditions ======= Wetter =====>> | | | Forecast Point Forecast | ==================== Chance Of Exceeding * ====================== | Period | 90% 70% | 50% | 30% 10% | 30-Yr Avg. | (1000AF) (1000AF) | (1000AF) (% AVG.) | (1000AF) (1000AF) | (1000AF) ====================================================================|=======================|==================================== = Fish Ck ab Reservoir nr Scofield APR-JUL 11.7 16.9 | 21 70 | 26 33 30 | | Price R nr Scofield Reservoir (2) APR-JUL 11.9 19.6 | 26 63 | 33 46 41 | | White R bl Tabbyune Creek APR-JUL 4.0 6.6 | 8.7 56 | 11.1 15.3 15.5 | | Green R at Green River, UT (2) APR-JUL 813 1239 | 1580 53 | 1962 2599 2960 | | Electric Lake Inflow (2) APR-JUL 4.0 6.2 | 8.0 60 | 10.0 13.5 13.3 | | Huntington Ck nr Huntington (2) APR-JUL 14.3 20 | 25 63 | 30 39 40
In this March release the 50% exceedance number for Huntington Creek is 25,000 acre feet and the 70% exceedance figure is 20,000 acre feet. The easy way to read this table: we are 90% sure to get 14.3 KAF or higher, 70% sure to get 20 KAF, 50% to get 26 KAF and only 30% chance of getting 30 KAF or higher. Due to the burn conditions across the watershed not captured by model input; we advise using a lower forecast number such as the 20 KAF figure in this example. The Clay Springs Fire (Oak Creek Watershed) The Clay Springs fire north of Delta burned about 180,000 acres in mid July of 2012. This fire was, in places, extremely hot and burned roots below the ground surface. The terrain in this east to west facing watershed is very steep with about 50% of the watershed on a south facing aspect. Nearly the entire watershed (99.6%) was consumed in the fire.
Clay Springs fire perimeter shown in red. The Oak Creek SNOTEL site was destroyed and later re‐built, and is currently giving good information on snowpack, precipitation, temperature and soil moisture. Currently (mid February) there is about the same amount of snow at the site as last year.
There is about 7.7 inches of snow water equivalent at the site with a density of 30%. This site is on a steep north facing aspect well sheltered from solar energy and as of a week ago, snow density was at 25%. Given similar weather patterns in the next few weeks and this site could begin melting in mid March. Soil moisture at this site is powder dry in the upper 4 inches at about 1% of saturation. Deeper sensors at 8 and 20 inches are also dry but show improved conditions at near 44% of saturation.
Oak Creek SNOTEL site prior to the Clay Springs fire.
Oak Creek SNOTEL re‐build post Clay Springs fire. Photo taken August, 2012.
Oak Creek Watershed looking north at the south facing aspects which were pretty uniformly burned. Conditions on this watershed are highly susceptible to erosion and are primed to produce heavy amounts of sediment, organic material and ash. Photo taken August, 2012. Snow Survey personnel were on site Wednesday, February 27th to measure the site and assess conditions. This was just after the large snow storm of February 23/24. Much of the south facing aspect on the Oak Creek watershed was bare or had very little snow cover and at this point in the snow accumulation season it is likely that any future accumulation will be very transient in nature. The northern aspect is holding about the same snow as last year and once melt starts, will likely proceed very quickly. The southern aspect won’t produce much stream flow which indicates lower flows should be expected. The flow that is generated from the northern aspects has the potential to start earlier, be much shorter in duration, have higher peak flows and have lower base flow throughout the later summer months than what would normally be expected given this amount of snow.
Oak Creek SNOTEL, 2/27/2013 – Photo by Bob Nault
Oak Creek Watershed looking north, 2/27/2013. Photo by Bob Nault
Water users that rely on Oak Creek are advised that the April‐July flow will likely be less than the 50% exceedance number and for planning purposes are advised to use a lower figure such as the 70% exceedance number.
================================================================================================================================= LOWER SEVIER RIVER BASIN Streamflow Forecasts - March 1, 2013 ================================================================================================================================= = | <<====== Drier ====== Future Conditions ======= Wetter =====>> | | | Forecast Point Forecast | ==================== Chance Of Exceeding * ====================== | Period | 90% 70% | 50% | 30% 10% | 30-Yr Avg. | (1000AF) (1000AF) | (1000AF) (% AVG.) | (1000AF) (1000AF) | (1000AF) ====================================================================|=======================|==================================== Sevier R nr Gunnison APR-JUL 35 65 | 91 92 | 107 137 99 | | Chicken Ck nr Levan APR-JUL 1.03 1.89 | 2.70 60 | 3.70 5.60 4.50 | | Oak Creek nr Oak City APR-JUL 0.53 0.82 | 1.00 60 | 1.31 1.75 1.66 | | ================================================================================================================================= * 90%, 70%, 50%, 30%, and 10% chances of exceeding are the probabilities that the actual volume will exceed the volumes in the table.
In this March release the 50% exceedance number for Oak Creek is 1000 acre feet and the 70% exceedance figure is 820 acre feet. The easy way to read this table: we are 90% sure to get 530 KAF or higher, 70% sure to get 820 KAF, 50% to get 1300 KAF and only 30% chance of getting 1310 KAF or higher. Due to the burn conditions across the watershed not captured by model input, we advise using a lower forecast number such as the 820 KAF figure in this example.
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