Journal cover Journal topic
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
10 Oct 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of this manuscript was accepted for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS) and is expected to appear here in due course.
Characterization of post-fire streamflow response across western US watersheds
Samuel Saxe1, Terri S. Hogue1, and Lauren Hay2 1Civil and Environmental Engineering and Hydrologic Science and Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado, USA
2National Research Program, United States Geological Survey, Lakewood, Colorado, USA
Abstract. This research investigates the impact of wildfires on watershed flow regimes, specifically focusing on evaluation of fire events within specified hydroclimatic regions in the western United States. Information on fire events and watershed characteristics were collected through federal and state-level databases and streamflow data were collected from U.S. Geological Survey stream gages. Eighty two watersheds were identified with at least ten years of continuous pre-fire daily streamflow records and five years of continuous post-fire daily flow records. For each watershed, percent change in annual runoff ratio, low-flows, high-flows, peak flows, number of zero flow days, baseflow index, and Richards-Baker flashiness index were calculated using pre- and post-fire periods. The gathered watersheds were divided into nine regions or clusters through k-means clustering and regression models were produced for watersheds grouped by total area burned. The coefficient of determination (R2) was used to determine the accuracy of the resulting models. Results show that low flows, high flows, and peak flows increase significantly in the first two years following a wildfire and decrease over time. Relative response was utilized to scale response variables with respective percent area of watershed burned in order to compare regional differences in watershed response. Watersheds in Cluster 9 (eastern CA, western NV, OR) typically demonstrate a negative relative post-fire response, in that when scaling response to area burned, a slight negative response is observed in flow regimes. Most other watersheds show a positive mean relative response. In addition, regression models show limited correlation between percent watershed burned and streamflow response, implying that other watershed factors strongly influence response.

Citation: Saxe, S., Hogue, T. S., and Hay, L.: Characterization of post-fire streamflow response across western US watersheds, Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. Discuss.,, in review, 2016.
Samuel Saxe et al.
Samuel Saxe et al.


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Short summary
We investigate the impact of wildfire on watershed flow regimes, examining response across the western United States. On a national scale, our results confirm the work of prior studies: that low, high, and peak flows typically increase following a wildfire. Regionally, results are more variable and sometimes contradictory. Our results may be significant in justifying the calibration of watershed models and in contributing to the overall observational analysis of post-fire streamflow response.
We investigate the impact of wildfire on watershed flow regimes, examining response across the...