Debris flow occurrence and sediment persistence, Upper Colorado River Valley, CO

Product Type: 

Journal Article

Year: 

2016

Author(s): 

Grimsley, K.J., S.L. Rathburn, J.M. Friedman, and J.F. Mangano

Suggested Citation: 

Grimsley, K.J., S.L. Rathburn, J.M. Friedman, and J.F. Mangano. 2016. Debris flow occurrence and sediment persistence, Upper Colorado River Valley, CO. Environmental Management 58: 76-92.

Debris flow magnitudes and frequencies are compared across the Upper Colorado River valley to assess influences on debris flow occurrence and to evaluate valley geometry effects on sediment persistence. Dendrochronology, field mapping, and aerial photographic analysis are used to evaluate whether a 19th century earthen, water-conveyance ditch has altered the regime of debris flow occurrence in the Colorado River headwaters. Identifying any shifts in disturbance processes or changes in magnitudes and frequencies of occurrence is fundamental to establishing the historical range of variability (HRV) at the site. We found no substantial difference in frequency of debris flows cataloged at eleven sites of deposition between the east (8) and west (11) sides of the Colorado River valley over the last century, but four of the five largest debris flows originated on the west side of the valley in association with the earthen ditch, while the fifth is on a steep hillslope of hydrothermally altered rock on the east side. These results suggest that the ditch has altered the regime of debris flow activity in the Colorado River headwaters as compared to HRV by increasing the frequency of debris flows large enough to reach the Colorado River valley. Valley confinement is a dominant control on response to debris flows, influencing volumes of aggradation and persistence of debris flow deposits. Large, frequent debris flows, exceeding HRV, create persistent effects due to valley geometry and geomorphic setting conducive to sediment storage that are easily delineated by valley confinement ratios which are useful to land managers.

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