Hydrologic Effects of the 1988 Galena Fire, Black Hills Area, South Dakota

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4323

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The Galena Fire burned about 16,788 acres of primarily ponderosa pine forest during July 5-8, 1988, in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. The fire burned primarily within the Grace Coolidge Creek drainage basin and almost entirely within the boundaries of Custer State Park. A U.S. Geological Survey gaging station with streamflow records dating back to 1977 was located along Grace Coolidge Creek within the burned area. About one-half of the gaging station's 26.8-square-mile drainage area was burned. The drainage basin for Bear Gulch, which is tributary to Grace Coolidge Creek, was burned particularly severely, with complete deforestation occurring in nearly the entirety of the area upstream from a gaging station that was installed in 1989. A study to evaluate effects of the Galena Fire on streamflow, geomorphology, and water quality was initiated in 1988. The geomorphologic and water-quality components of the study were completed by 1990 and are summarized in this report. A data-collection network consisting of streamflow- and precipitation-gaging stations was operated through water year 1998 for evaluation of effects on streamflow characteristics, including both annual-yield and peak-flow characteristics, which are the main focus of this report. Moderately burned areas did not experience a substantial increase in the rate of surface erosion; however, severely burned areas underwent surficial erosion nearly twice that of the unburned areas. The sediment production rate of Bear Gulch estimated 8 to 14 months after the fire was 870 ft3/acre (44 tons/acre). Substantial degradation of stream channels within the severely burned headwater areas of Bear Gulch was documented. Farther downstream, channel aggradation resulted from deposition of sediments transported from the headwater areas. The most notable water-quality effect was on concentrations of suspended sediment, which were orders of magnitude higher for Bear Gulch than for the unburned control area. Effects on several other water-quality constituents, such as organic carbon and nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient constituents, probably were influenced by the large concentrations of suspended matter that were documented in initial post-fire, storm-flow events. The first post-fire stormflow produced the highest measured concentrations of specific conductance, nitrogen, phosphorus, organic carbon, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and sulfate in the burned areas. For most constituents sampled, differences in concentrations between burned and unburned areas were no longer discernible within about 1 year following the Galena Fire. The effects of the Galena Fire on annual-yield characteristics of Grace Coolidge Creek were evaluated primarily from comparisons with long-term streamflow records for Battle Creek, which is hydrogeologically similar and is located immediately to the north. Annual yield for Grace Coolidge Creek increased by about 20 percent as a result of the fire. This estimate was based on relations between annual yield for Grace Coolidge Creek and Battle Creek for pre- and post-burn periods. Many of the post-burn data points are well beyond the range of the pre-burn data, which is a source of uncertainty for this estimate. Substantial increases in peak-flow characteristics for severely burned drainages were visually apparent from numerous post-fire field observations. Various analyses of streamflow data indicated substantial increases in peak-flow response for burned drainage areas; however, quantification of effects was particularly difficult because peak-flow response diminished quickly and returned to a generally pre-burn condition by about 1991. Field observations of vegetation and analysis of remotely sensed data indicated that establishment of grasses and forbs occurred within a similar timeframe. Comparison of pre-fire peak flows to post-1991 peak flows indicates that these grasses and forbs were equally effective in suppressing peak flows

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Hydrologic Effects of the 1988 Galena Fire, Black Hills Area, South Dakota
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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67 p.