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Three Decades of Road and Trail Runoff and Erosion Work in the Northeastern Caribbean – A Research Program Perspective

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Journal of the ASABE. (in press). (doi: 10.13031/ja.15078) @2022
Authors:   Carlos E. Ramos Scharron, Efrain E. Alicea, Yasiel Figueroa Sanchez, Matthew LaFevor, Preston McLaughlin, Lee H. MacDonald, Kynoch Reale-Munroe, Edivaldo L. Thomaz, Roberto Viqueira Rios
Keywords:   Connectivity, coral reefs, landslides, Puerto Rico, sedimentation, surface erosion, Virgin Islands.


Infiltration capacities of unsurfaced roadways are frequently exceeded by rain intensity promoting overland flow.

Erosion rates from unsurfaced roadways and cutslopes are 101-104 times greater than on undisturbed hillslopes.

Roads in steep, subtropical wet terranes may increase landslide erosion by a factor of 5 relative to unroaded areas.

The hydro-geomorphic impact of roads is so prominent that they must be explicitly considered in watershed assessments.

ABSTRACT. Erosion is a key environmental concern in the Northeastern Caribbean because it can diminish soil productivity, damage infrastructure, and threaten human life. Additionally, sediment released by erosion can be delivered to streams where it can degrade water quality and aquatic habitat, reduce reservoir storage capacity, and threaten critical marine resources such as sea grass beds and coral reefs. Road erosion has been a concern in the region since the 1990s and there has been a considerable body of research conducted over the last ~30 years. This article reviews the key findings and identifies additional research needs. In some tropical dry coastal watersheds of the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, unpaved roads, foot or off-road vehicle trails are the primary sediment source. Watershed scale sediment production rates in these tropical dry settings are 0.3 to 3.7 Mg ha-1 yr-1 depending largely on unpaved road density and these are 3 – 40 times greater than background. In wetter settings, like the forested and actively cultivated landscapes of highland Puerto Rico, sediment contributions include those from unpaved farm roads, but also croplands, streambanks, and landslides. On actively cultivated tropical wet settings, watershed scale sediment production rates are 15 – 60 Mg ha-1 yr-1 with road induced surface erosion and landsliding responsible for 50 – 95% of the total sediment production. Designing management alternatives will require additional research to improve understanding of road-to-stream and road-to-coast connectivity, develop effectiveness metrics of applied management practices, and establish the specific causes of road-induced landsliding.

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