SWAT Literature Database for Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Title:Assessing the hydrologic response to wildfires in mountainous regions 
Authors:Havel, A., A. Tasdighi and M. Arabi 
Journal:Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 
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URL (non-DOI journals): 
Broad Application Category:hydrologic only 
Primary Application Category:land use change 
Secondary Application Category:hydrologic assessment 
Watershed Description:5230 km^2 Poudre River, which drains portions of southeast Wyoming and north central Colorado, U.S. 
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Abstract:This study aims to understand the hydrologic responses to wildfires in mountainous regions at various spatial scales. The Soil andWater Assessment Tool (SWAT) was used to evaluate the hydrologic responses of the upper Cache la Poudre Watershed in Colorado to the 2012 High Park and Hewlett wildfire events. A baseline SWAT model was established to simulate the hydrology of the study area between the years 2000 and 2014. A procedure involving land use and curve number updating was implemented to assess the effects of wildfires. Application of the proposed procedure provides the ability to simulate the hydrologic response to wildfires seamlessly through mimicking the dynamic of the changes due to wildfires. The wildfire effects on curve numbers were determined comparing the probability distribution of curve numbers after calibrating the model for pre- and post-wildfire conditions. Daily calibration and testing of the model produced “very good” results. No-wildfire and wildfire scenarios were created and compared to quantify changes in average annual total runoff volume, water budgets, and full streamflow statistics at different spatial scales. At the watershed scale, wildfire conditions showed little impact on the hydrologic responses. However, a runoff increase up to 75% was observed between the scenarios in sub-watersheds with high burn intensity. Generally, higher surface runoff and decreased subsurface flow were observed under post-wildfire conditions. Flow duration curves developed for burned subwatersheds using full streamflow statistics showed that less frequent streamflows become greater in magnitude. A linear regression model was developed to assess the relationship between percent burned area and runoff increase in Cache la Poudre Watershed. A strong (R2 >0.8) and significant (p <0.001) positive correlation was determined between runoff increase and percentage of burned area upstream. This study showed that the effects of wildfires on hydrology of a watershed are scale-dependent. Also, using full streamflow statistics through application of flow duration curves revealed that the wildfires had a higher effect on peak flows, which may increase the risk of flash floods in post-wildfire conditions.