B.C. clear-cut logging makes 100-year flood 10 times more likely, study finds

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A new study found B.C. clear-cut logging was linked to up to an 84% spike in flood size. The bigger the flood, the more likely it will come back with more frequency, raising concerns over the ability of dikes to hold back floodwaters.

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Clear-cut logging in the upper reaches of two B.C. rivers led to a massive increase in downstream flood size and frequency, raising further questions over the influence tree harvests may have as climate change makes flooding worse, a new study has found.

But the biggest surprise, said to Younes Alila, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of forest resources management, was how frequent small, medium and big floods were expected to return when clear-cut logging occurs. But every river system is different — clear-cut watersheds facing south will get more sun, leading to spikes in meltwater as seen at Joe Ross Creek. The upper reaches of Deadman River face a different though just as risky scenario. A cut block sitting at the same elevation, such as a flat plateau, can accumulate deep snowpack that will eventually melt all at once. Downstream, all that meltwater pours into a river at once, driving up flood levels.

The small headwaters where heavy logging has taken place may be far from the downstream populated urban area. But eventually, those floodwaters will carry and deposit the fine sediment next to the dikes protecting communities. ​Still, said Alila, logging has a powerful impact, and the combined effect of clear-cutting and wildfire could lead to a different kind of flood risk far from Interior rivers like the Deadman or Joe Ross Creek. ​

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