Effects of alpine development on water quality and quantity
Investigators: Beverley Wemple, Jamie Shanley, Don Ross and Andrea Lini

Disturbance to forested watersheds through suburbanization and resort development is increasingly common, particularly in densely populated regions. Our research on Mt. Mansfield in northern Vermont aims to examine the effects of ski resort development on flow dynamics and water quality using a paired watershed study. Our watersheds include the West Branch basin (11.7 km2), which encompasses an alpine ski resort, and the Ranch Brook basin (9.8 km2), which serves as our undeveloped control. Our analysis includes empirical interpretation of streamflow and water quality data, field investigations of hydrologic flowpaths, and model simulations of flow dynamics under current and proposed future conditions. The commencement of our study in 2000 has allowed us to compile three years of data prior to a development project in the West Branch basin, where trail expansion, installation of new snowmaking facilities, and construction of a slope side village began in 2003. On-going data collection will track the effects of development on water quality and quantity.

Our work is supported by grants from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Vermont Water Resources and Lake Studies Center, the Vermont NSF EPSCoR program, and the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative. The study has provided opportunities for collaboration among scientists from the University of Vermont, Sterling College, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Graduate research projects have focused on basic questions of alpine hydrology and applied issues associated with water quality. Undergraduate students at UVM participate actively in the project through individual research projects and a field class offered at the site.

Web links:

Relevant Publications:

  • Shanley, J. S. and B. C. Wemple. 2002. "Water Quality and Quantity in the Mountain Environment" in J. Milne and E. Miller (eds.) Mountain Resorts: Ecology and the Law special issue of the Vermont Law Review, 26(3): 717-751.
  • Wemple, B., Shanley, J., Denner, J., Ross, D. and K. Mills, Hydrology and Water Quality in Two Mountain Basins of the Northeastern US: assessing baseline conditions and effects of ski area development, Hydrological Processes, in review.