Regular contributor to Eugene Weekly, Robert Warren, starts off last week’s column by asking “What’s your favorite place?” a question inspired by Shaul Cohen’s introductory Geography course. As he proceeds, Warren discusses how various courses he has audited in his retirement have inspired him. In particular, he cites our own Pat McDowell’s “Watershed Science and Policy” course which I (Matthew Goslin) have been assisting the past 3 years. It’s great to see such a dedicated, always creative and evolving teacher like Pat get some fun recognition. I’ve been reading Warren’s columns in the EW regularly these past few years and didn’t realize he was the gentleman sitting in on the courses we’d been teaching, including our recent geomorphology course. I hope he enjoyed it as much as Watershed Science and Policy!
My Favorite Place
Last week, I (Matthew Goslin) ventured out to the Middle Fork John Day River where we are investigating effects on channel morphology of the native plant, Carex nudata (aka torrent sedge). A key methodology are the arrays of erosion pins (steel rods) I’ve set out in river banks with and without C. nudata fringes. We measure the length of the pins three times a year in transitions between summer/fall, winter/spring and spring/summer in order to capture different erosion processes. The post-river ice/pre-spring peak flows measurement is one of the most important: it will allow us to distinguish between winter freeze/thaw processes which may cause erosion or, more problematically, push the pins outward and the fluvial erosion caused by spring snowmelt-driven peak flows. It’s also the trickiest because there’s a short window of time when the river is wadeable between the ice melt and rise in flows.
For reference, discharge at the nearest gage to our site is 20-60 cfs in summer and peak flows range from 600-900 cfs. Last year, we measured pins while flow was around 120 cfs, a level we found barely wadeable. This year, as soon as the ice melted, flows jumped to 600 cfs and then declined to 120 cfs. I got my team ready as flows declined, but that window lasted only 4 days. One night of rain and flows climbed and leveled at around 290 cfs, conditions in which we had never tried to work. We forged ahead, finding dry suits to borrow from fish snorkel surveying friends. We knew we would have to immerse ourselves in frigid water to get these measurements.
Arriving at Oxbow Conservation Area, we were surprised to still see a patchwork of snow, bare in some places and 1-2 feet deep in others. The first couple hours led me to despair: almost all of the pins were under water with turbidity and sediment making them invisible. We would have to do this almost entirely by feel. Mission impossible? Flows were too strong to cross the river, but we could work in the less powerful velocities near the edges. We pushed ourselve to try and find and measure pins. We soon discovered we had a rhythm, it wasn’t impossible. By the end of the trip, we had measured about 90% of the pins. Working in the frigid snowmelt water left us feeling miserable and elated all at the same time as we pushed through the challenge. Jame Major (Pat McDowell’s undergrad research assistant) and Emily Erickson (a recent grad and summer river crew alum) were fantastic assistants, as was volunteer, Emily Davis of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.
It was awe-inspiring to work in this snow melt landcape with water running (or just standing!) across surfaces everywhere, everything we learn about snowmelt-driven hydrology in action.
Early in February, several River Rats — Christina Shintani, Christina Appleby, Pat McDowell and Matthew Goslin — attended the 15th annual River Restoration Northwest Symposium at Skamania Lodge in the Columbia River Gorge. Christina Shintani and Pat McDowell both gave presentations about applications of Structure from Motion techniques for restoration monitoring. Christina Appleby, in addition to presenting a poster on her work in the Long Tom River, was one of the select few student volunteers facilitating the event.
Attending each of the past 3 years, the symposium is a unique event which has become one of my favorites (Matthew G). Why do I like it so much? The symposium brings together several hundred people from diverse professional backgrounds — engineers, planners, policy folks and scientists from biologists to hydrologists — representing a diversity of entities — private environmental consulting and engineering firms, local to federal agencies, tribes, universities, non-profits — all of whom are motivated by their passion for rivers. The symposium eschews multiple concurrent sessions for one single session in which everyone participates — stretching everyone with talks that may not be in their area of expertise, but in so doing bringing everyone together into the same conversation. While the focal region is the Pacific Northwest, the symposium’s quality is increasingly attracting participants from throughout the West as well as farther afield, including a couple talks from Scotland this year. Highlights for me this year were featured talks by Matt Kondolf (UC Berkeley), “Erodible Corridors: Where Possible in Theory, Examples in Practice,” and Steward Rood (U. Lethbridge), “Functional Flows: A Practical Strategy for Healthy River” and a session on “Nature’s Ecological River Restorers” that exemplified the increasing recognition of biological and geomorphological linkages. The symposium also allows ample time for socializing, meals together and networking, including a young professionals luncheon in which the UO students participated.
Each year, I find this event refreshing, perhaps because many talks focus not just on the critical science of understanding the damage that has been done to ecosystems, but also on figuring out methods and strategies to effect positive change and restoration for river systems, lessons learned and success stories. Furthermore, in the context of our country’s contentious elections just getting underway, I was struck by stories of collaboration, efforts to talk across differences and bridge gaps between different stakeholder groups for the purpose of finding common ground around rivers. Perhaps river restoration practitioners understand better than most that we are indeed all connected and need to persist in efforts to work together, rivers make that connection an inescapable fact.