The U.S. Geological Survey is installing a network of six precipitation gauges in areas burned by the 2013 Beaver Creek wildfire.
According to a news release from the USGS, real-time information from the gauges will help county residents and emergency managers stay alert to the possibility of intense rainfall that might trigger debris flows and flash flooding from burned slopes.
“These strategically placed precipitation gages should help us get early warnings out to emergency response officials and the public to help protect lives and property,” said Corey Loveland, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello. “Current observation data is very sparse in the burned area, so this network will greatly improve the available data.”
Four of the six gauges are in place, at Baker Creek north of Ketchum, Timber Gulch south of Ketchum, Democrat Gulch west of Hailey and Wolftone Creek in the Deer Creek drainage.
Heavy snowpack is delaying gauge installation at the two remaining sites, but the USGS will install those gauges as soon as possible, the news release stated.
The Beaver Creek Fire was started by lightning on Aug. 7. By the time it was contained at the end of August, the fire had burned 174 square miles on the west side of the Wood River Valley. Most of the burned area was on national forest and BLM land.
Rain that fell shortly after containment triggered localized flooding and numerous debris flows.
“The Blaine County commissioners recognize that portions of the county that burned severely during the 2013 Beaver Creek Fire will remain at increased flood risk for up to five years,” County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said. “We have worked actively with state and federal agencies to identify, prepare for and mitigate potential flooding.”
The USGS assessed the risk of future debris flows, information that helped to guide mitigation efforts. According to the news release, discussions with Blaine County and other agencies pointed to the need for the precipitation gauge network.
USGS project chief Dave Evetts said the gauges are being installed at spots identified as having a high potential for debris flow.
Evetts said this is the first USGS precipitation gauge network in Idaho.
“The USGS has established similar networks with partners in other states, and we could install more precipitation gauges and stream gauges in other parts of Idaho as needed,” he said.
Funding for the new precipitation gauges was provided by $14,820 from the USGS and $8,880 from the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security.
Data from the precipitation gauge network and local stream gauges can be accessed via waterdata.usgs.gov. Click on current conditions, then on the map of Idaho, then scroll down to “Blaine County precipitation stream flow network.”
Users can also subscribe to USGS WaterAlert text or e-mail notifications for any of the gauges.
McCleary said the commissioners were impressed both during and after the fire with the efficient and effective ways that local, state and federal government agencies worked together.
According to the release, the USGS and Blaine County are considering installing a new stream gauge on upper Deer Creek to provide additional flood warning. Information from that gauge will be available online with all of the precipitation gauges and stream gauges in the Wood River Valley.