Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 1873–1882, 2012

Special issue: Geo-hydrological risk and town and country planning

Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 12, 1873–1882, 2012

Research article 13 Jun 2012

Research article | 13 Jun 2012

Debris flood hazard documentation and mitigation on the Tilcara alluvial fan (Quebrada de Humahuaca, Jujuy province, North-West Argentina)

G. Marcato1, G. Bossi1, F. Rivelli2, and L. Borgatti3 G. Marcato et al.
  • 1CNR-IRPI – National Research Council of Italy, Research Institute for Hydrological and Geological Hazard Prevention, Stati Uniti 4, 35127 Padova, Italy
  • 2Departamento de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Salta, Casilla De Correo 529, 4400 Salta, Argentina
  • 3Department of Civil, Environmental and Materials Engineering DICAM, Alma Mater Studiorium Università di Bologna, Viale Risorgimento 2, 41136 Bologna, Italy

Abstract. For some decades, mass wasting processes such as landslides and debris floods have been threatening villages and transportation routes in the Rio Grande Valley, named Quebrada de Humauhuaca. One of the most significant examples is the urban area of Tilcara, built on a large alluvial fan. In recent years, debris flood phenomena have been triggered in the tributary valley of the Huasamayo Stream and reached the alluvial fan on a decadal basis.

In view of proper development of the area, hazard and risk assessment together with risk mitigation strategies are of paramount importance. The need is urgent also because the Quebrada de Humahuaca was recently included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Therefore, the growing tourism industry may lead to uncontrolled exploitation and urbanization of the valley, with a consequent increase of the vulnerability of the elements exposed to risk. In this context, structural and non structural mitigation measures not only have to be based on the understanding of natural processes, but also have to consider environmental and sociological factors that could hinder the effectiveness of the countermeasure works.

The hydrogeological processes are described with reference to present-day hazard and risk conditions. Considering the socio-economic context, some possible interventions are outlined, which encompass budget constraints and local practices. One viable solution would be to build a protecting dam upstream of the fan apex and an artificial channel, in order to divert the floodwaters in a gully that would then convey water and sediments into the Rio Grande, some kilometers downstream of Tilcara. The proposed remedial measures should employ easily available and relatively cheap technologies and local workers, incorporating low environmental and visual impacts issues, in order to ensure both the future conservation of the site and its safe exploitation for inhabitants and tourists.