The effect of truck traffic and road water content on sediment delivery from unpaved forest roads

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Abstract

A study investigated the effect of truck-traffic intensity and road water-content on the quality of runoff water from unsealed forest roads. Three sections of a gravel-surfaced forest road were instrumented and exposed to low and high levels of truck traffic during wet winter conditions and dry summer conditions between July 2001 and December 2002. Rainfall, runoff, road moisture, and traffic were measured continuously, and suspended and bedload sediments were integrated measurements over 2-week site-service intervals. The median suspended sediment concentration from the three road segments under low truck-traffic conditions (less than nine return truck passes prior to a storm) was 269 mg l−1, increasing 2·7-fold to a median of 725 mg l−1 under high truck-traffic conditions (greater than or equal to nine return truck passes prior to a storm). These concentrations, and increases due to traffic, are substantially less than most previously reported values. When these data are expressed as modified universal soil loss equation (MUSLE) erodibility values K, accounting for differences in rainfall energy, site characteristics and runoff, high traffic resulted in a road surface that was four times more erodible than the same road under low traffic conditions. Using multiple regression, traffic explained 36% of the variation in MUSLE erodibility, whereas road water content was not significant in the model. There was little difference in the erodibility of the road when trafficked in low water-content compared with high water-content conditions (MUSLE K values of 0·0084 versus 0·0080 respectively). This study shows that, for a good quality well-maintained gravel forest road, the level of truck traffic affects the sediment concentration of water discharging from the road, whereas the water content of the road at the time of that traffic does not (note that traffic is not allowed during runoff events in Victoria). These conclusions are conditional upon the road being adequately maintained so that trafficking does not compromise the lateral drainage of the road profile.

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