Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020CO155B

Steamboat Resort Recreational Impacts on Streamflow

Institute: Colorado
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: Not available

Principal Investigators: Stephanie Kampf

Abstract: Study Summary Ski areas can change streamflow through addition of artificial snow,clearing of ski runs, and construction of trails. Added snow increases the water input to streams,potentially causing higher streamflow. Tree clearing can also lead to increased streamflowbecause trees are no longer present to transpire as much water. Trails can be pathways ofconcentrated flow during snowmelt or rainstorms. The goal of this study is to determine whetherthese disturbances have altered streamflow magnitude and timing at the Steamboat ski resort.Routt National Forest has provided sensors to track precipitation, snow depth, and stream stageat eighteen sites on the ski resort and in nearby undisturbed watersheds. Watershed drainageareas range from 0.9-5.3 mi2.Nine pressure transducers are installed to monitor streamstage in the disturbed Burgess Creek watershed; two of these nine have been installed in asubwatershed with little development and are therefore categorized as undisturbed. Fouradditional pressure transducers have been installed on the ski resort in watersheds with differentdegrees of disturbance; five sensors have been installed off the resort in undisturbedwatersheds to record reference streamflow data. Sensors log stream stage at 15-minute intervals.During the snowmelt season in 2020, each stream monitoring site will be visited regularly tomeasure stream discharge and develop stage-discharge rating curves.Methods Watersheds and subwatersheds will be delineated from LiDAR coverage, andGIS layers of ski runs, snow making roads, and trails will be used to quantify the extent ofdisturbance in each watershed. Within each watershed, rainfall is monitored with tipping bucketrain gauges, and snow depth is monitored with time lapse cameras pointed at snow poles. TheTower snow telemetry station and Bob Adams Airport automated surfaceobservation system also provide precipitation data for the studyarea. The streamflow, rain, and snow data will be analyzed within and across watersheds toquantify and compare water yields, evaluate lag time between input and hydrograph responseand compare rates of hydrograph recession.Relevance and Management Implications Colorado’s ski industry is diversifying itsrecreational portfolio with expansion into summer activities. There is a need to understand theextent to which both current and added summer recreational activities affect stream health. This will help inform USFS, Steamboat and other ski areas about the potential impacts of land usechanges and guide future land management.