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
Study Assesses Groundwater Resources in the Willamette Basin
Irrigation is a major user of groundwater in the Willamette Basin.
Full appropriation of tributary streamflow during summer, a growing population, and agricultural needs are increasing the demand for groundwater in the Willamette Basin. Greater groundwater use could diminish streamflow and create seasonal and long-term declines in groundwater levels. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Oregon Water Resources Department cooperated in a study to develop a conceptual and quantitative understanding of the groundwater-flow system of the Willamette Basin with an emphasis on the Central Willamette subbasin. This final report from the cooperative study describes numerical models of the regional and local groundwater-flow systems and evaluates the effects of pumping on groundwater and surface-water resources. The models described in this report can be used to evaluate the effects of pumping on groundwater, base flow, and stream capture.
The Willamette Basin is a topographic and structural trough that lies between the Coast Range and the Cascade Range in northwestern Oregon. It has five sedimentary subbasins underlain and separated by basalts of the Columbia River Basalt Group (Columbia River basalt) that crop out as local uplands. The regional model covers about 6,700 square miles of the 12,000-square-mile Willamette and adjacent Sandy River drainage basins.
Are Contaminants in the Columbia River System a Cause of Lamprey Declines?
Lamprey male building a redd (spawning nest). (Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Lampreys are members of an ancient order of jawless, cartilagenous fishes that have existed for as long as 400 million years. Pacific lampreys (Entosphenus tridentatus), one of 38 modern lamprey species, have inhabited Pacific Northwest river basins for possibly millions of years. Pacific lamprey are parasitic on ocean-going fishes, such as salmon. They are integral to the ecology of these river basins, and are culturally significant to several Northwest Tribes. Lamprey populations in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the world have declined dramatically in recent decades, probably owing to multiple causes. The role of habitat contamination in the declines has rarely been studied and is the main objective of a joint study by the USGS and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.
The goal of the study is to provide information about the bioaccumulation of several classes of contaminants of concern in larval and adult Pacific lampreys and habitat in key areas of the Columbia River Basin. The study will assess organism health during sensitive life stages before their transformation to adults, compare concentrations in larval tissues to levels in adult lampreys, and consider lamprey and human health implications. Phase 1 of the study, already completed, provided reconnaissance-based information on exposure and bioaccumulation of organic contaminants in larval, filter-feeding lampreys. Phase 2 will concentrate on adult lamprey.
Monitoring Sediment, Bedload, Turbidity and Dissolved Oxygen During Reservoir Drawdown to Facilitate Downstream Fish Passage
Collecting bedload samples in Fall Creek during drawdown of Fall Creek Lake reservoir
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), monitored turbidity, suspended-sediment concentration, dissolved oxygen, and bedload during a short-term operational drawdown of Fall Creek Lake, a reservoir operated by USACE in the upper Willamette Basin, Oregon, in the winter of 2012–13 (fig. 1). The USACE is an action agency listed in the 2008 National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinions (BiOps) on continued operations of the Willamette Valley Project, and, as such, is required to improve conditions at its facilities in the Willamette Basin for Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed fish species (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008). The BiOps state that the action agencies must carry out interim operational measures so downstream travelling ESA-listed fish species pass through dams as safely and efficiently as possible until permanent downstream fish passage facilities are constructed. Read about the study and the results.
Modeling Transport of Endangered Upper Klamath Lake Sucker Larvae Through a Restored Wetland
Sucker larvae and an egg collected from Upper Klamath Lake. (Photograph from the USGS Western fisheries Research Center.)
Marshes in the delta of the Williamson River, a major tributary to Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon, probably were once among the most important habitats for larvae of the endangered Lost River Sucker, Deltistes luxatus, and Shortnose Sucker, Chasmistes brevirostris, because of their location downstream of productive spawning grounds. In the 1940s, the delta was diked and drained for agriculture, which resulted in loss of organic matter, soil compaction, and subsidence, particularly in the northern part of the delta. In 1996, The Nature Conservancy purchased the property surrounding the mouth of the Williamson River (fig. 1) and began a large-scale restoration project to reconnect the Williamson River with about 6,200 acres of former agricultural land. In October 2007, the levees around the northern part of the delta, known as "Tulana," were breached, flooding approximately 3,700 acres. In November 2008, levees around the southern part of the delta, known as "Goose Bay," were breached, flooding an additional 2,500 acres. A primary restoration goal was to restore the function of the delta and its wetlands as nursery habitat for the endangered suckers.
A hydrodynamic model with particle tracking was used to simulate larval fish dispersal through the Williamson River delta into Upper Klamath Lake before and after restoration. Read about the study results here and here.
How Do Algae Contribute to the Tualatin River Ecosystem?
Pediastrum, a floating colonial green alga. (Photograph by Kurt Carpenter, USGS). Algae like this one produce oxygen and are important to the ecological health of slow-moving rivers like the lower part of the Tualatin River.
Phytoplankton (floating algae) in the Tualatin River of northwestern Oregon are critical for maintaining the river's dissolved oxygen levels in summer. During the low-flow summer period, nutrients and a long residence time typically combine with ample sunshine and warm water to fuel blooms of algae in the low-gradient, slow-moving lower river. Most algae in the lower part of the Tualatin River are the kind that drift with the water because the river is moderately deep and the bottom does not have the type of substrate needed for attached algae. Growth of algae occurs as if on a “conveyor belt” of streamflow, a dynamic system that is continually refreshed with inflowing water. Transit through the system can take as long as 2 weeks during the summer low-flow period. Production of oxygen by algae is important in offsetting oxygen depletion near the river bottom caused by decomposing organic matter from, primarily, the land. Low oxygen concentrations can harm aquatic life.
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.
Recent Oregon WSC Publications
Water-Quality Modeling of Klamath Straits Drain Recirculation, a Klamath River Wetland, and 2011 Conditions for the Link River to Keno Dam Reach of the Klamath River, Oregon, by Annett B. Sullivan, USGS; I. Ertugrul Sogutlugil and Michael L. Deas, Watercourse Engineering, Inc.; and Stewart A. Rounds, USGS
Simulation of Groundwater Flow and the Interaction of Groundwater and Surface Water in the Willamette Basin and Central Willamette Subbasin, Oregon, by Nora B. Herrera, Erick R. Burns, and Terrence D. Conlon
Total Dissolved Gas and Water Temperature in the Lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, Water Year 2013: Quality-Assurance Data and Comparison to Water-Quality Standards by Heather M. Bragg and Matthew W. Johnston
Assessment of Suspended-Sediment Transport, Bedload, and Dissolved Oxygen during a Short-Term Drawdown of Fall Creek Lake, Oregon, Winter 2012–13, by Liam N. Schenk and Heather M. Bragg
Assessing Potential Effects of Highway Runoff on Receiving-Water Quality at Selected Sites in Oregon with the Stochastic Empirical Loading and Dilution Model (SELDM), by John C. Risley and Gregory E. Granato
Comparison of Historical Streamflows to 2013 Streamflows in the Williamson, Sprague, and Wood Rivers, Upper Klamath Lake Basin, Oregon, by Glen W. Hess and Adam Stonewall
Statistical Analysis of the Water-Quality Monitoring Program, Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, and Optimization of the Program for 2013 and Beyond, by Sara L. Caldwell Eldridge, Susan A. Wherry, and Tamara M. Wood
Particle-Tracking Investigation of the Retention of Sucker Larvae Emerging from Spawning Grounds in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, by Tamara M. Wood and Susan A. Wherry, USGS, and David C. Simon and Douglas F. Markle, Oregon State University
Foodweb transfer, sediment transport, and biological impacts of emerging and legacy organic contaminants in the lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, USA: USGS Contaminants and Habitat (ConHab) Project
Of Current Interest
How Are Drought and Groundwater Related?
Groundwater is among the Nation's most important natural resources. It provides half our drinking water and is essential to the vitality of agriculture and industry, as well as to the health of rivers, wetlands, and estuaries throughout the country. Droughts can significantly impact the Nation's groundwater resources while the drought is occurring and for some time afterward. Understanding groundwater, surface water, and the integrated nature of the hydrologic system enables resource managers and policy makers to better prepare for and respond to drought. The USGS provides groundwater data and information that resource managers and policy makers can use to prepare for and respond to drought.
Organic 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