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Jointly Developed Watershed Assessment Model Being Used in Yosemite National Park

Last Modified: 12/04/2013
Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California (USDA-NRCS photo by Ron Nichols).

Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite National Park, California (USDA-NRCS photo by Ron Nichols).

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

An award-winning watershed assessment tool, the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA), was deployed to assess potential Rim Fire threats in Yosemite National Park in California.  The park experienced a devastating fire that began on August 17, 2013, and took several months to contain. The fire burned more than 400 square miles in and around the park, cost $125.8 million to date, and is considered one of the largest wildfires in California’s history.

BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) is a multi-agency group that includes USDA’s Forest Service and others, and is responsible for identifying potential threats such as downstream flooding and developing plans to rehabilitate and restore burned areas. BAER teams use AGWA to target immediate efforts to prevent threats to people, wildlife and the land.  Using AGWA combined with the burn severity map produced by BAER teams, experts can rapidly pull together information on pre- and post-fire conditions. For example, knowing where to apply mulch after a fire can reduce runoff and erosion and can help minimize downstream risks from fire induced land cover and soil changes.

AGWA has already been successfully used for post-fire BAER team watershed assessments following fires in Arizona, New Mexico, California, Idaho and Washington.  AGWA was jointly developed by scientists with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Southwest Watershed Research Center in Tucson, AZ, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Universities of Arizona and Wyoming.

ARS researchers and their partners originally developed the computer model as a multipurpose computer system and software tool designed for managing and analyzing water quantity and quality to help keep our Nation’s watersheds cleaner. AGWA uses nationally available data sources to rapidly establish and execute results from two ARS-developed watershed models, the Kinematic Runoff and Erosion Model (KINEROS2) and the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT).  It enables the user to visualize and compare model results to understand the impact of a certain practice on a given landscape.

How we manage activities that take place on crop production areas, rangelands, pastures, forests, meadows, and urban areas influences the quantity and quality of water available for domestic, industrial, agricultural and ecological uses. You can learn more about AGWA at www.tucson.ars.ag.gov/agwa.