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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Evidence-based policy for integrated control of forested river catchments in extreme rainfall and snowmelt

Final Report Summary - EPIC FORCE (Evidence-based policy for integrated control of forested river catchments in extreme rainfall and snowmelt)

The EPIC FORCE project aimed to clarify the forest impact on flood response for extreme rainfall and snowmelt events, thus developing science based policy recommendations for integrated forest and water resources management which would be relevant to the Latin American environment.

The prevailing scientific hypothesis, supported by data analysis and modelling applications, was that an increase in the flood magnitude would reduce the effect of land cover. Guidelines for integrated water and forest resources management recognising this effect had already been developed; however they emphasised in the role of forests in reducing the flood levels of more moderate events and in preventing soil erosion and sediment loads. The project demonstrated how an advance in scientific understanding of the phenomenon could also support improvements in management practices and policy formulations, affecting people and the environment in which they lived.

More specifically, the major objectives of this research initiative were to:
1. verify the abovementioned prevailing scientific hypothesis using a combination of model application and data analysis;
2. develop improved strategies for integrated forest and water management relevant to extreme events;
3. formulate evidence based policy recommendations for national agencies, the European Union and the World Bank by proposing improvements on existing national policies.

For the purpose of the analysis of EPIC FORCE, extreme events referred to significant rainfall that generated flood and caused damage over a certain acceptable level. This definition did not include low rainfall or lack of precipitation. A conceptual model was developed for the identification of different scales of flood events and the assessment of the associated requirement for management strategies for prevention and mitigation of damage. Both tropical and temperate rainforests were examined. The differences in available monitored information imposed the implementation of various data interpretation and exploitation approaches.

Simulations were run using a physically based, spatially distributed modelling system for flow and sediment transport which was implemented at catchment scales. The software included components for modelling vegetation interception and transpiration, snowmelt, overland flow, subsurface unsaturated and saturated flow, river and aquifer interactions and sediment yield, including inputs from landslides. The project also focussed on large woody debris management and developed several alternative best practice options, with particular relevance to the protection of downstream urban areas.

The developed guidelines were based on the concept that resources management should:
1. protect the catchment inhabitants against the impact of rainfall and snowmelt events;
2. provide optimal management options for water and soil resources in support of a sustainable way of life for the catchment inhabitants.

Particular emphasis was put on the analysis of institutional frameworks for managing extreme events and forest and water resources in a series of Latin American countries. Finally, the identification of achievable policy objectives and the development of links with key stakeholders were also critical for the project success.