The effect of wildfire on peak streamflow and annual water yield has been investigated empirically in numerous studies. The effect of wildfire on baseflow recession rates, in contrast, is not well documented. The objective of this paper was to quantify the effect of wildfire on baseflow recession rates in California for both individual watersheds and for all the study watersheds collectively. Two additional variables, antecedent groundwater storage and potential evapotranspiration, were also investigated for their effect on baseflow recession rates and postfire baseflow recession rate response. Differences between prefire and postfire baseflow recession rates were modeled statistically in 8 watersheds using a mixed statistical model that accounted for fixed and random effects. For the all-watershed model, antecedent groundwater storage, potential evapotranspiration, and wildfire were each found to be significant controls on baseflow recession rates. Wildfire decreased baseflow recession rates 52.5% (37.6% to 66.0%), implying that postfire reductions in above-ground vegetation (e.g., decreased interception, decreased evapotranspiration) were a stronger control on baseflow recession rate change than hydrophobicity. At an individual watershed scale, baseflow recession rate response to wildfire was found to be sensitive to intraannual differences in antecedent groundwater storage in 2 watersheds, with the effect of wildfire on baseflow recession rates being greater with lower levels of antecedent groundwater storage. Examination of burn severity for a subset of the study watersheds pointed to riparian zone burn severity as a potential primary control on postfire recession rate change. This study demonstrates that wildfire may have a substantial impact on fluxes to and from groundwater storages, altering the rate at which baseflow recedes.
Bart, R.L.; Tague, C. (2017): The impact of wildfire on baseflow recession rates in California. Hydrological Processes . DOI: 10.1002/hyp.11141