Impacts of the Mountain Pine Beetle on Water Quantity and Quality in the Rocky Mountain West

EPA Grant Number: FP917354
Title: Impacts of the Mountain Pine Beetle on Water Quantity and Quality in the Rocky Mountain West
Investigators: Mikkelson, Kristin M
Institution: Colorado School of Mines
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Water Quality: Hydrogeology and Surface Water


The mountain pine beetle (MPB) epidemic has recently reached epidemic proportions and could have a drastic impact on water quality and quantity. Forest canopy changes have the potential to alter multiple components of the local water and energy cycles along with forest biogeochemistry. The objective of this research is to study the changing hydrologic regime due to the MPB, along with investigating the altered transport of metals and organic carbon within the impacted watershed.


To investigate the changing hydrologic and energy regimes associated with the MPB epidemic, a suite of methods will be used such as field studies, laboratory experiments and numerical modeling. Field studies will be used to gather data on the altered metal and dissolved organic carbon flux, along with evapotranspiration and snow depth measurements. Laboratory studies will investigate the possible metal release associated with soils in MPB affected catchments. Numerical modeling will be used to research the changing hydrology, biogeochemistry and energy fluxes associated with the MPB epidemic and will be compared to field studies.

Expected Results:

As climate change has the potential to drastically impact water quantity, this research aims to determine the magnitude of impact the MPB infestations may have on water quantity, specifically the timing of runoff and base flows under different climate scenarios. Field studies and modeling will give water managers in the Rocky Mountain West a better understanding of how their water supplies might be altered. This research also will determine whether or not water treatment facilities have to be concerned with an increased flux of metals and dissolved organic carbon, or if there are underlying mechanisms in MPB impacted watersheds mitigating the release of potential contaminants.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

Anthropogenic climate change has magnified the current MPB infestation in the Rockies; specifically, consecutive mild winters have not sufficiently suppressed MPB populations and beetles now thrive at higher elevations. This research is imperative due to the Rocky Mountains being a source-water region for much of the American West along with the region’s sensitive alpine ecology. In the end, the MPB epidemic could lead to drinking water, fishery and economic concerns through perturbations to both water quality and quantity.

Supplemental Keywords:

mountain pine beetle, hydrology, biogeochemistry, metal flux, dissolved organic carbon, water quantity, water quality

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final