During 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with Gunnison County, initiated a study to estimate the potential for postwildfire debris flows to occur in the drainage basins occupied by Carbonate, Slate, Raspberry, and Milton Creeks near Marble, Colorado. Currently (2010), these drainage basins are unburned but could be burned by a future wildfire. Empirical models derived from statistical evaluation of data collected from recently burned basins throughout the intermountain western United States were used to estimate the probability of postwildfire debris-flow occurrence and debris-flow volumes for drainage basins occupied by Carbonate, Slate, Raspberry, and Milton Creeks near Marble. Data for the postwildfire debris-flow models included drainage basin area; area burned and burn severity; percentage of burned area; soil properties; rainfall total and intensity for the 5- and 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration-rainfall; and topographic and soil property characteristics of the drainage basins occupied by the four creeks. A quasi-two-dimensional floodplain computer model (FLO-2D) was used to estimate the spatial distribution and the maximum instantaneous depth of the postwildfire debris-flow material during debris flow on the existing debris-flow fans that issue from the outlets of the four major drainage basins.
The postwildfire debris-flow probabilities at the outlet of each drainage basin range from 1 to 19 percent for the 5-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, and from 3 to 35 percent for 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall. The largest probabilities for postwildfire debris flow are estimated for Raspberry Creek (19 and 35 percent), whereas estimated debris-flow probabilities for the three other creeks range from 1 to 6 percent. The estimated postwildfire debris-flow volumes at the outlet of each creek range from 7,500 to 101,000 cubic meters for the 5-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall, and from 9,400 to 126,000 cubic meters for the 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall. The largest postwildfire debris-flow volumes were estimated for Carbonate Creek and Milton Creek drainage basins, for both the 5- and 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfalls.
Results from FLO-2D modeling of the 5-year and 25-year recurrence, 1-hour rainfalls indicate that the debris flows from the four drainage basins would reach or nearly reach the Crystal River. The model estimates maximum instantaneous depths of debris-flow material during postwildfire debris flows that exceeded 5 meters in some areas, but the differences in model results between the 5-year and 25-year recurrence, 1-hour rainfalls are small. Existing stream channels or topographic flow paths likely control the distribution of debris-flow material, and the difference in estimated debris-flow volume (about 25 percent more volume for the 25-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall compared to the 5-year-recurrence, 1-hour-duration rainfall) does not seem to substantially affect the estimated spatial distribution of debris-flow material.
Historically, the Marble area has experienced periodic debris flows in the absence of wildfire. This report estimates the probability and volume of debris flow and maximum instantaneous inundation area depths after hypothetical wildfire and rainfall. This postwildfire debris-flow report does not address the current (2010) prewildfire debris-flow hazards that exist near Marble.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Estimated probabilities, volumes, and inundation areas depths of potential postwildfire debris flows from Carbonate, Slate, Raspberry, and Milton Creeks, near Marble, Gunnison County, Colorado
Scientific Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey
Colorado Water Science Center, Utah Water Science Center