Category Archives: Water Resources Policy and Management

Characterizing off-channel habitats in the Willamette River: Fish need to cool off too!

During the summer, when the mercury clears triple digits on the Fahrenheit scale, people seek out cooler spaces. Shaded parks, air conditioned ice cream parlors, and community pools are often top places to beat the heat. If you’re a resident of Corvallis, Oregon, you may head downtown to dip your toes in the Willamette River. Yet while the river offers a break from the hot temperatures for us, it is much too warm for the cold water fishes that call it home.

Where do fish go to cool off?

As a master’s student in the Water Resources Graduate Program at Oregon State University, Carolyn Gombert is working to understand where cold water habitat is located along the Willamette River. More importantly, she is seeking to understand the riverine and geomorphic processes responsible for creating the fishes’ version of our air conditioned ice cream parlors. By placing waterproof temperature loggers along sites in the upper Willamette, she hopes to shed light both on the temporal and spatial distribution of cold water patches, as well as the creation mechanisms behind such habitats.

 

The cart before the horse: seeking to reconcile science and policy

Because the Willamette Basin is home to Cutthroat trout and Chinook salmon, the river is subject to the temperature standard adopted by the state of Oregon in 2003. Between May through October, Cutthroat and Chinook require water cooler than 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Currently, the main channel of the Willamette regularly exceeds this threshold. The coolest water during this time is found in side channels or alcoves off the main stem. While Oregon law recognizes the benefits these “cold water refuges” can provide, our scientific understanding of how these features change over time is still in its early stages.

Emerging stories

Data collection for Carolyn’s project is slated to wrap up during September of 2017. However, preliminary results from temperature monitoring efforts suggest the subsurface flow of river water through gravel and sediment plays a critical role in determining water temperature. By pairing results from summer field work with historical data such as air photos and laser-based mapping techniques (LiDAR) like in the image below, it will be possible to link geomorphic change on the Willamette to its current temperature distributions.

Between 1994 and 2000, the Willamette River near Harrisburg, Oregon shifted from a path along the left bank to one along the right bank. This avulsion would have happened during a high flow event, likely the 1996 flood.

No stranger to narratives

Prior to beginning her work in hydrology at OSU, Carolyn earned a bachelor’s in English and taught reading at the middle school level. Her undergraduate work in creative writing neither taught her how to convert temperature units from Fahrenheit to Celsius nor how to maneuver in a canoe. But the time she spent crafting stories did show her that characters are not to be forced into a plot, much like data is not to be forced into a pre-meditated conclusion. Being fortunate enough to work with Stephen Lancaster as a primary advisor, Carolyn looks forward to exploring the subtleties that surface from the summer’s data.

If you’d like to hear more about the results from Carolyn’s work, she will be at the OSU Hydrophiles’ Pacific Northwest Water Research Symposium, April 23-24, 2018. Feel free to check out past Symposiums here. Additionally, to hear more about Carolyn’s journey through graduate school, you can listen to her interview on the Happie Heads podcast.

Carolyn conducting field work on the Willamette.

Carolyn Gombert wrote the bulk of this post, with a few edits contributed by ID hosts.

Navigating Cultural Currents: Sharing Water in Central America

Between the Southeastern portion of the country of Costa Rica and Panama to the south runs the Sixaola River. For almost a hundred miles on its meandering path to the Caribbean the river forms the boundary between these two nations. But the Sixaola has many names. It is shared not only by the two countries to its north and south, but also by countless indigenous peoples who rely on its waters for the valuable resources that make their livelihoods possible.

When determining how the river is to be managed as a valuable resource politics inevitable come into play. This is called “hydro diplomacy“. Waste and chemical pollutants that one group dispose of in the river flow downstream to contaminate the lands of other groups. Complicating the situation is the fact that some of the peoples sharing the river reject the conventions of typical  society: the value of the river is not the same for all peoples along its length.

Dacotah in one of her favorite places: the water.

Dacotah in one of her favorite places: the water.

This is what Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova aims to better understand. As a masters student in Water Resources Policy and Management at Oregon State, Dacotah meets with and interviews many of these peoples to bring their unique cultural values concerning the river into the ongoing governmental discussion of water usage and regulation.

Dacotah’s work differs from other resource management studies in that it is not just about the relationships between people with different points of view, but about the special relationship human beings have with water itself. As a basic resource that all humans need to survive, people have an almost spiritual relationship with water. For Dacotah water is a powerful force for overcoming differences, and a symbol for peace.

You can find more information about her work at http://waterpax.org/