Oregon Water Science Center
U.S Geological Survey
Oregon Water Science Center
2130 SW 5th Ave
Portland, OR 97201
Phone: (503) 251-3200
Fax: (503) 251-3470
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USGS Oregon WSC Highlights
New Software Tool Helps Water Managers Assess Effects of Stream and Lake Level Changes on Adjacent Lands
Drained wetlands in the Wood River Valley adjacent to Upper Klamath Lake (Photograph by Trish Roninger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007). The Shoreline Mangement Tool will allow managers to predict inundation patterns and depths resulting from lake-level changes.
The Shoreline Management Tool is a geographic information system (GIS) based program developed to assist water- and land-resource managers in assessing the benefits and effects of changes in surface-water stage on water depth, inundated area, and water volume. Additionally, the Shoreline Management Tool can be used to identify aquatic or terrestrial habitat areas where conditions may be suitable for specific plants or animals as defined by user-specified criteria including water depth, land-surface slope, and land-surface aspect. The tool can also be used to delineate areas for use in determining a variety of hydrologic budget components such as surface-water storage, precipitation, runoff, or evapotranspiration.
How Does Naturally Occurring Organic Matter in the Clackamas River, Oregon, Relate to Disinfection By-Products in Drinking Water?
Plants, such as this green alga, are a source of organic carbon that can react with chlorinated disinfection chemicals during the drinking water treatment process to form disinfection by-products. These compounds can cause cancer and birth defects. (Photograph by Kurt Carpenter, USGS.)
Disinfection by-products (such as chloroform) result from the chemical interaction of chlorinated disinfection compounds and carbon-based organic matter that occurs naturally in the source water. Some of these disinfection by-products can cause cancer or birth defects. Water managers would like to be able to identify the types of organic carbon that contribute disinfection by-product precursors in source water to assess the potential for future deterioration of river quality resulting from a wide array of organic-matter sources. Understanding the timing, sources, and composition of organic matter entering drinking-water intakes will help drinking-water suppliers develop source-water-protection programs, facilitate successful and cost-effective treatment strategies, and plan for future upgrades to treatment plants.
The Clackamas River drains a large area east of Portland, Oregon. Land cover in the watershed is primarily forest, but also includes agricultural and urbanized areas. The river is the source of drinking water for a population of about 400,000. Two drinking-water treatment plants on the lower river use direct filtration, coagulation, and chlorination in their treatment process. The use of chlorine as a disinfectant, although essential for pathogen control, leads to the formation of disinfection by-products when it reacts with organic matter from the river. The USGS, in cooperation with Clackamas River Water, the City of Lake Oswego, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Water Research Foundation, conducted a study to characterize the nature and quantity of organic matter in source water for the treatment plants and tested the effectiveness of coagulant and powdered activated carbon on the removal of disinfection by-product precursors.
Why Is Groundwater Declining So Fast in the Columbia Plateau?
The Columbia Plateau regional aquifer system is an important source of irrigation water to farmers in otherwise dry agricultural areas of northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, and western Idaho. (Photograph courtesy of NASA)
Groundwater from the 44,000-square-mile Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer, a system in decline since the 1970s, is an essential source of drinking water for nearly 1.3 million people in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, and of irrigation water for the region’s estimated $6 billion-per-year agricultural industry.
To help resource managers in the region, the USGS Groundwater Resources Program began a study in 2007 of the Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer System to answer key questions about widespread water-level declines, reductions in groundwater flow into rivers, and the as-yet unknown effects of a changing climate on groundwater resources.
As part of the effort to document changes in the aquifer system, scientists from the USGS Washington and Oregon Water Science Centers compiled water levels measured in about 60,000 wells over the last 100 years. From a subset of the collected information, scientists developed a groundwater-level trend map for a period of widespread groundwater level changes (1968 to 2009). The average rate of change for all wells was 1.9 feet per year of decline, with 72 percent of all wells declining.
Hydrologic Datasets to Aid Water Management in the Upper Klamath Basin
The Sprague River is a major source of water to Upper Klamath Lake.
The USGS, in cooperation with several Klamath Basin stakeholders, has developed hydrologic datasets for the upper Klamath Basin of south-central Oregon that can help water managers identify and prioritize water uses that could be voluntarily set aside and reallocated to yield an additional 30,000 acre feet of water to Upper Klamath Lake. The datasets can be used by water managers to display the geographical distribution of evapotranspiration, subirrigation, water rights, streamflow statistics, and irrigation return flow in the upper basin, crucial information for understanding potential impacts of any changes in allocation. Used together, the datasets can help managers determine the relative benefits of retiring water uses and/or redirecting specific water rights to address water-resource issues specified in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
The KBRA was developed by a diverse group of stakeholders—Federal and State resource management agencies, Tribal representatives, and interest groups. The KBRA has the over-arching goal of providing a comprehensive solution to ecological and water-supply issues in the Klamath Basin. An important element of the KBRA is an Off-Project Water Program (outside of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project area, south of Upper Klamath Lake), which was designed to help resolve upper basin water-supply issues. The KBRA has not yet been authorized by Congress; this research was undertaken to help water managers facilitate implementation of KBRA if it is authorized. The datasets, however, will also be of importance to other water-resources research efforts in the upper basin.
Restoring the Environmental Health of a Regulated River, the Santiam
The Santiam River is a tributary of the Willamette River in northwestern Oregon that drains an area of 1,810 square miles. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) operates four dams in the basin, which are used primarily for flood control, hydropower production, recreation, and water-quality improvement. Detroit and Big Cliff Dams were constructed in 1953 on the North Santiam River. Green Peter and Foster Dams were completed in 1967 on the South Santiam River. The impacts of the structures have included a decrease in the frequency and magnitude of floods and an increase in low flows. These changes have altered the geomorphology and ecology of the Santiam River system.
A recently completed USGS study provides a baseline assessment of the hydrology, geomorphology, and effect of streamflow on the ecology of the Santiam River. The assessment was made for the Santiam River environmental flow study, which is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) under auspices of the Sustainable Rivers Project. In 2002, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began the Sustainable Rivers Project for the purpose of modifying dam operations and implementing environmental flow requirements for various river systems around the country. The study findings will assist water managers and stakeholders in the development of future environmental flow requirements for the Santiam River basin.
Geomorphology, Water Quality, and Habitat in the Mollala River
The Molalla River, a tributary to the Willamette River in nortwestern Oregon, is valued for many attributes, including its runs of winter steelhead and spring Chinook salmon, high-quality drinking water, and, in summer, refreshing swimming holes. Concerns about declining fish runs have generated interest in documenting the current status of the aquatic habitat available for fish and water-quality conditions in the river and how the basin's geomorphology and land use might be contributing to habitat degradation and property damage. To address these issues, the Molalla River Improvement District, Molalla River Watch, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others requested that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conduct a geomorphic and aquatic habitat study in the lower Molalla River.
The objectives of this study were to (1) complete a geomorphic and aquatic habitat characterization of the lower Molalla River to understand the factors driving current conditions in the river, (2) characterize the water quality, benthic algae, and invertebrate conditions, and (3) evaluate potential interactions between algal assemblages and the geomorphic and water-quality parameters. In addition, given ongoing concerns about potential nutrient enrichment, bacteria, proliferations of nuisance algae in the river, and impacts on water quality such as low levels of dissolved oxygen and high pH, this study also included two surveys of algal conditions to document current biomass levels and species composition in the lower river during summer. Because of the often strong control that grazing by bottom-dwelling organisms can have on algal populations and their importance as a food resource for fish, qualitative surveys for these organisms were also conducted during algal sampling.
Assessing Trends in Gravel Bar and Channel Morphology in the Rogue River Basin
The Rogue River transports large amounts of gravel.
Several coastal rivers in southwestern Oregon are a source of gravel used as aggregate for road and construction projects and to make concrete. Gravel bars in the Rogue River basin have been used as a local source since at least 1972. The Klamath Mountains, which underlie about half of the basin, are a rich source of gravel in the Rogue and other coastal rivers.
The USGS, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of State Lands, has completed a reconnaisance study of gravel transport in the Rogue River basin to inform the permitting of instream gravel extraction in Oregon.The study employed various methods to document vertical and lateral channel conditions and trends in the distribution and area of gravel bars over time: review of existing datasets (such as bridge inspection surveys, watershed analyses, and instream gravel-mining records), delineation of bar and channel features from aerial and orthophotographs taken in multiple years, and field observations and particle size measurements in July and September 2010. Findings from these datasets and observations were used to (1) assess the vertical and lateral stability of river segments in the Rogue River basin and identify locations where the channels may be incising, aggrading, prone to migrations, or stable and (2) identify key datasets and issues that are relevant to understanding channel condition and bed-material transport as well as the potential effects of instream gravel extraction on channel condition and bed-material transport in the basin.
Significant findings and the final report from this study can be accessed at http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1280/. Online reports for the Umpqua River, Hunter Creek, and Chetco River are also available.
Video: Studying the Effects of Emerging Contaminants on the Lower Columbia River Ecosytem
Osprey are at the top of the Columbia River ecosystem food web. (Photograph by Anthony Long, Vancouver, Washington)
The Columbia River provides important hydroelectric power generation, valuable recreational and tribal fisheries, extensive recreational areas and scenic beauty, and habitat for wildlife and fish. The lower Columbia River below Bonneville is the largest remaining free-flowing reach not impounded by hydroelectric dams, and is critical to the viability of culturally significant fish populations (anadromous and resident) in the Columbia Basin, as well as a myriad of other aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Fish, wildlife, and human populations along the lower Columbia River are exposed to a growing variety of contaminants as a result of increasing urbanization, industrialization, and agricultural development.
The USGS is studying how emerging contaminants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDEs) and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) impact fish, osprey, and other wildlife in the lower Columbia River basin. Learn more in this video: http://gallery.usgs.gov/videos/427
Video: Shocking! Electrofishing for Largescale Suckers on the Columbia River
Largescale suckers from the Columbia River are used in a USGS study that assesses the impact of contaminants on the river ecosystem (Photograph by Steven Sobieszczyk, USGS)
The USGS is studying how contaminants such as flame retardants, endocrine disrupting compounds, and other toxins impact fish, osprey, and other wildlife in the basin. As part of that study, USGS biologists collect fish (largescale suckers) to measure concentrations of these compounds in organ tissue and to relate these to contaminant concentrations measured in the foodweb and environment.
Suckers are collected in the open river by using boat-mounted electroshockers to stun and then net the fish. You can see how this is done in a video of a recent collecting trip that can be accessed via either of the following links:
Geologic Model of the Columbia River Plateau Supports Studies of Groundwater Availability
The Umatilla River in the southern Columbia Plateau of Oregon (Photograph by Terrence Conlon, USGS)
The Columbia Plateau regional aquifer system (CPRAS) covers approximately 44,000 mi2 of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. The area supports a 6 billion dollar per year agricultural industry, leading the Nation in the production of apples and nine other commodities. Groundwater availability in the aquifers of the area is a critical water-resource management issue because the water demand for agriculture, economic development, and ecological needs is high.
The primary aquifers of the CPRAS are basaltic lava flows of the Columbia River Basalt Group (CRBG) and overlying basin-fill sediments. Water-resource issues that may affect groundwater availability in the region include (1) widespread water-level declines associated with groundwater withdrawals for irrigation and other uses, (2) reduction in base flow to rivers and associated effects on temperature and water quality, and (3) current and anticipated effects of global climate change on recharge, base flow, and, ultimately, groundwater availability.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Groundwater Resources program began a study of the CPRAS in 2007 with the broad goals of (1) characterizing the hydrologic status of the system, (2) identifying trends in groundwater storage and use, and (3) quantifying groundwater availability. The study approach includes documenting changes in the hydrologic condition of the system, quantifying the hydrologic budget for the system, updating the regional geologic and hydrogeologic frameworks, and developing a groundwater-flow simulation model for the system. The groundwater flow model will be used to evaluate and test the conceptual model of the system and then will be used to evaluate groundwater availability under alternative development and climate scenarios. A geologic model has been developed to serve as the foundation for the hydrogeologic framework of the groundwater flow model.
Report Documents the Age of Groundwater Nationwide
USGS scientist flame-sealing a vial of groundwater for age determination (Photograph by Mark Uhrich, USGS)
Water "age" in aquifers is a critically important hydrologic variable. The age of a molecule or particle of water from a groundwater system is defined as the time required for that water particle to travel from the point of recharge to a measurement point in the aquifer. Knowledge of groundwater age can be used to infer groundwater flow paths and recognize areas of groundwater recharge. An understanding of groundwater age can be used to reconstruct contaminant loading histories or explain trends in groundwater quality, and can contribute to the understanding of groundwater susceptibility to contamination. Estimates of groundwater age also can be used to constrain groundwater flow and transport models, rates of recharge, rates of groundwater movement, and biogeochemical reaction rates.
A recently released USGS report documents selected age data interpreted from measured concentrations of environmental tracers in groundwater from 1,399 USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program groundwater sites across the United States. The tracers of interest were chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and tritium/helium-3 (3H/3He). Tracer data compiled for this analysis primarily were from wells representing two types of NAWQA groundwater studies—Land-Use Studies (shallow wells, usually monitoring wells, in recharge areas under dominant land-use settings) and Major-Aquifer Studies (wells, usually domestic supply wells, in principal aquifers and representing the shallow, used resource). Reference wells (wells representing groundwater minimally impacted by human activities) associated with Land-Use Studies also were included. Tracer samples were collected between 1992 and 2005, although two networks sampled from 2006 to 2007 were included because of network-specific needs.
Recent Oregon WSC Publications
Total Dissolved Gas and Water Temperature in the Lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, Water Year 2012: Quality-Assurance Data and Comparison to Water-Quality Standards, by Dwight Q. Tanner, Heather M. Bragg, and Matthew W. Johnston
Plankton Communities and Summertime Declines in Algal Abundance Associated with Low Dissolved Oxygen in the Tualatin River, Oregon, by Kurt D. Carpenter and Stewart A. Rounds
The Shoreline Management Tool—An ArcMap Tool for Analyzing Water Depth, Inundated Area, Volume, and Selected Habitats, with an Example for the Lower Wood River Valley, Oregon, by Daniel T. Snyder, Tana L. Haluska, and Darius Respini-Irwin
Evapotranspiration from Wetland and Open-Water Sites at Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, 2008–2010, by David I. Stannard, Marshall W. Gannett, and Danial J. Polette, U.S. Geological Survey; Jason M. Cameron, Bureau of Reclamation; M. Scott Waibel, U.S. Geological Survey; and J. Mark Spears, Bureau of Reclamation
Macrophyte and pH Buffering Updates to the Klamath River Water-Quality Model Upstream of Keno Dam, Oregon, by Annett B. Sullivan and Stewart A. Rounds, U.S. Geological Survey; Jessica R. Asbill-Case, Bureau of Reclamation; Michael L. Deas, Watercourse Engineering, Inc.
Sources and Characteristics of Organic Matter in the Clackamas River, Oregon, Related to the Formation of Disinfection By-Products in Treated Drinking Water, by Kurt D. Carpenter, Tamara E.C. Kraus, Jami H. Goldman, John Franco Saraceno, Bryan D. Downing, Brian A. Bergamaschi, Gordon McGhee, and Tracy Triplett
Groundwater Status and Trends for the Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer System, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, by Erick R. Burns, Daniel T. Snyder, Jonathan V. Haynes, and Michael S. Waibel
Simulating Potential Structural and Operational Changes for Detroit Dam on the North Santiam River, Oregon, for Downstream Temperature Management, by Norman L. Buccola, Stewart A. Rounds, Annett B. Sullivan, and John C. Risley
Preliminary Assessment of Channel Stability and Bed-Material Transport in the Tillamook Bay Tributaries and Nehalem River Basin, Northwestern Oregon, by Krista L. Jones, Mackenzie K. Keith, Jim E. O'Connor, Joseph E. Mangano, and J. Rose Wallick
Hydrological Information Products for the Off-Project Water Program of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, by Daniel T. Snyder, John C. Risley, and Jonathan V. Haynes
Suspended-Sediment Characteristics of the Johnson Creek Basin, Oregon, Water Years 2007–10, by Adam J. Stonewall and Heather M. Bragg
Evaluation of the Relation between Evapotranspiration and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index for Downscaling the Simplified Surface Energy Balance Model, by Jonathan V. Haynes and Gabriel B. Senay
Dissolved oxygen analysis, TMDL model comparison, and particulate matter shunting—Preliminary results from three model scenarios for the Klamath River upstream of Keno Dam, Oregon, by Annett B. Sullivan and Stewart A. Rounds, U.S. Geological Survey; Michael L. Deas and I. Ertugrul Sogutlugil, Watercourse Engineering, Inc.
Water-Quality Data from Upper Klamath and Agency Lakes, Oregon, 2009–10, by D. Blake Eldridge, Sara L. Caldwell Eldridge, Liam N. Schenk, and Tamara M. Wood
An Environmental Streamflow Assessment for the Santiam River Basin, Oregon , by John C. Risley, J. Rose Wallick, Joseph F. Mangano, and Krista L. Jones
Of Current InterestOrganic Carbon and the World Around Us
Carbon is all around us and in all life on Earth, including us. New analytical methods allow USGS scientists to gain many kinds of information about the sources and fate organic carbon in the aquatic environment, information that can help maintain the health of that environment—and us. Watch this video to learn how.
USGS Helps Debut New Technology to Improve Access and Use of Earth Science Data
Researchers investigating global issues now have an easy method for finding and using earth science data through a new technology developed by the Data Observation Network for Earth, or DataONE.
Understanding broad and complex environmental issues, for example climate change, increasingly relies on the discovery and analysis of massive datasets. But the amount of collected data — from historical field notes to real-time satellite data —means that researchers are now faced with an onslaught of options to locate and integrate information relevant to the issue at hand.
DataONE, a ten-institution team with several hundred Investigators, including researchers from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is addressing this data dilemma with a number of cyberinfrastructure and educational tools to allow long-term access and usage of earth science data and information. The recently released ONESearch tool queries data centers located around the world for relevant earth science information and provides integrated access to science metadata and corresponding datasets.
Video: What's in Our Water?
This video examines what is in the Nations’ water, how the U.S. Geological Survey monitors it, and the tools the USGS has developed to explore more about our planet’s most abundant resource.
About the USGS Cooperative Water Program
The Cooperative Water Program, the largest of the 28 USGS Bureau Programs, is the Water Mission Area’s “bottom-up, on-the-ground” program that is designed to bring local, State, and Tribal water science needs and decision-making together with USGS national capabilities related to USGS nationally consistent methods and quality assurance; innovative monitoring technology, models, and analysis tools; and robust data management and delivery systems.
The Cooperative Water Program conducts studies in every State, protectorate, and territory of the U.S. through a workforce of about 1,800 people staffed within 48 Water Science Centers in partnership with nearly 1,600 local, State, and Tribal agencies. The Program provides the foundation for USGS strong and robust water monitoring networks (quantity and quality) and supports interpretative studies – about 700 annually – that cover a wide range of issues that are important to the USGS water mission and that inform local, State, and Tribal water decisions.
The significant tie to local, State, and Tribal issues allows the Cooperative Water Program to respond to emerging water issues, raising those issues to regional and national visibility.
Video: Assessing the Health of Our Streams and Rivers
Each year USGS scientists systematically assess the ecological health and water-quality conditions in streams and rivers across the United States. This research plays a vital role in land management and natural resource decisions around the country. These extensive data collection efforts conducted by researchers in the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program involve much more than just water quality. Learn more in this video.
US West Coast Erosion Spiked In Winter 2009–10, Previewing Likely Future As Climate Changes
Knowing that the U.S. west coast was battered during the winter before last by a climatic pattern expected more often in the future, scientists have now pieced together a San Diego-to-Seattle assessment of the damage wrought by that winter's extreme waves and higher-than-usual water levels. Getting a better understanding of how the 2009-10 conditions tore away and reshaped shorelines will help coastal experts better predict future changes that may be in store for the Pacific coast, the researchers say.
"The stormy conditions of the 2009-10 El Niño winter eroded the beaches to often unprecedented levels at sites throughout California and vulnerable sites in the Pacific Northwest," said Patrick Barnard, USGS coastal geologist. In California, for example, winter wave energy was 20 percent above average for the years dating back to 1997, resulting in shoreline erosion that exceeded the average by 36 percent, he and his colleagues found.
Read the full USGS news release
Read the journal article
New Discoveries Improve Climate Models
New discoveries on how underwater ridges affect the ocean's circulation system will help improve climate projections.
An underwater ridge can trap the flow of cold, dense water at the bottom of the ocean. Without the ridge, deepwater can flow freely and speed up the ocean circulation pattern, which generally increases the flow of warm surface water.
Warm water on the ocean's surface makes the formation of sea ice difficult. With less ice present to reflect the sun, surface water will absorb more sunlight and continue to warm.
U.S. Geological Survey scientists looked back 3 million years, to the mid-Pliocene warm period, and studied the influence of the North Atlantic Ocean’s Greenland-Scotland Ridge on surface water temperature.
"Sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans were much warmer during the mid-Pliocene warm period than they are today, but climate models so far have been unable to fully understand and account for the cause of this large scale of warming," said USGS scientist Marci Robinson. "Our research suggests that a lower height of the Greenland-Scotland Ridge during this geologic age was a contributor to the increase of poleward heat transport."
Read the full USGS news release
Read the journal article
Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges—U.S. Geological Survey Science for the Next Decade
The U.S. Geological Survey responds to evolving national and global priorities by periodically reflecting on and optimizing its strategic science directions. Responding to these national priorities and global trends requires a science strategy that not only builds on existing USGS strengths and partnerships but also demands the innovation made possible by integrating the full breadth and depth of USGS capabilities. The USGS has chosen six science directions that address major challenges for the Nation's future:
Read the Science Strategy Fact Sheet
Read the full report
Global Earthquake Alerts to Include Economic Loss and Casualty Information
Estimated economic loss and casualty information will now be included in earthquake alerts sent out by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) following significant earthquakes around the world. These earthquake alerts are widely recognized and used by emergency responders, government and aid officials, and the public to understand the scope of the potential disaster and to develop the best response.
The USGS automated system, PAGER (Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response), rapidly assesses earthquake impacts by estimating the shaking distribution, the number of people and settlements exposed to severe shaking, and the range of possible fatalities and economic losses. The estimated losses trigger the appropriate color-coded alert, which determines levels of response: no response needed (green); local or regional (yellow), national (orange) or international (red).
"The two recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are good indications that earthquake magnitude alone is not a reliable predictor of human and economic loss,” said Dr. Marcia McNutt, director of the USGS. “The smaller magnitude-7.0 Haiti earthquake caused significantly more damage and loss of life than did the larger magnitude-8.8 Chile earthquake. PAGER is designed to rapidly and automatically take into account the differences in proximity to populated areas, depth of the earthquake, and building standards that are so critical in determining the human and economic toll so that emergency responders can act promptly and accordingly.”
View the entire news release
Read the PAGER fact sheet