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
ABOUT THE OREGON WSC
ABOUT THE USGS
USGS IN YOUR STATE
USGS Water Science Centers are located in each state and territory.
Water Resources of Oregon
The mission of the U.S. Geological Survey is to serve the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.
The mission of the Oregon Water Science Center is to provide reliable scientific information that describes, interprets, and facilitates the management of water resources for the benefit of the American people.
The USGS Oregon Water Science Center provides water data and interpretation of data to Federal, State, and local agencies; Tribes; and the public. Our data and study results are widely used to manage Oregon's water resources for the benefit of both people and our environment. This Website is your gateway to a wealth of information on surface water, groundwater, and water quality in Oregon and the Nation.
Streamflow Conditions in Oregon
USGS Oregon WSC Highlights
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.
How Much Gravel Is There In the Umpqua River?
Gravel bar on the Umpqua River at mile 93 (Photograph by Rose Wallick, USGS)
The Umpqua River drains 12,103 km2 of western Oregon, heading in the Cascade Range and draining portions of the Klamath Mountains and Coast Range before entering the Pacific Ocean. Above the head of tide, the Umpqua River, along with its major tributaries, the North and South Umpqua Rivers, flows on a mixed bedrock and alluvium bed, alternating between bedrock rapids and intermittent, shallow gravel bars composed of gravel to cobble-sized rocks. These bars have been a source of commercial aggregate since the mid-twentieth century.
Motivated by ongoing permitting and aquatic habitat concerns related to instream gravel mining on the fluvial reaches, USGS scientists evaluated spatial and temporal trends in channel change and bed-material transport for 350 km of river channel along the Umpqua, North Umpqua, and South Umpqua Rivers. The assessment produced (1) detailed mapping of the active channel, using aerial photographs and repeat surveys and (2) a quantitative estimation of bed-material flux that drew upon detailed measurements of particle size and lithology, equations of transport capacity, and a sediment yield analysis.
Models Reconstruct Historical Wind Data for Upper Klamath Lake
Meteorological station on the shore of Upper Klamath Lake (Photograph by Kristofer Kannarr)
Wind data is helping scientists better understand the ecology of two endangered fish species in Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake. Wind speed and direction at the lake surface are inputs to a water circulation model that enables scientists to predict where newly hatched shortnose and Lost River suckers will travel after they are carried from spawning areas through the Williamson River Delta and into the lake. New models created by scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey can reconstruct historical wind data that will make the circulation models more accurate.
Lake surface wind data has been collected by the USGS, in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation, since 2005 at various locations on Upper Klamath Lake by using raft-mounted instruments that are deployed from May to September. With only seasonal wind data available, USGS scientists needed to find a way to reconstruct wind conditions from the rest of the year to improve the accuracy of the lake circulation model. They developed models to do that. These models can also use data from nearby meteorological stations to extend the data record backward in time, prior to 2005. This will allow scientists to better analyze the relation between wind and other datasets, like water quality, which has been monitored by Klamath Tribes since 1986.
What if There Were No Dams on the Willamette?
Detroit Lake Dam on the North Santiam River (Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
A recent USGS study developed methods to assess the effects of dams on streamflow and water temperature in the Willamette River and its major tributaries. These methods were used to estimate the flows and temperatures that would occur at 14 dam sites in the absence of upstream dams, and river models were applied to simulate downstream flows and temperatures under a no-dams scenario. The dams selected for this study include 13 dams built and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as part of the Willamette Project and 1 dam on the Clackamas River owned and operated by Portland General Electric (PGE). Streamflows in the absence of upstream dams for 2001–02 were estimated for USACE sites on the basis of measured releases, changes in reservoir storage, a correction for evaporative losses, and an accounting of flow effects from upstream dams. For the PGE dam, no-project streamflows were derived from a previous modeling effort that was part of a dam-relicensing process.
Listen to a podcast interview with the study's chief investigator (episode 11).
Study Investigates One of the Causes of Oxygen Depletion in the Tualatin River
Tualatin River at Lee Falls (Photograph by Stewart Rounds, USGS)
Dissolved oxygen is essential to the aquatic health of many rivers and lakes, and the concentration of dissolved oxygen often is used as a water-quality standard to protect fish and aquatic life. The dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration in a waterbody is affected by many processes, such as exchange with the atmosphere (reaeration), photosynthesis by algae or aquatic plants, ammonia nitrification, respiration by algae and bacteria, and the bacterially mediated decomposition of organic matter suspended in the water column or in surficial sediments. The oxygen consumed through the decomposition of organic matter in surficial sediments is called sediment oxygen demand (SOD) and can be one of the most important loss processes for DO, particularly in shallow streams.
Low DO conditions periodically occur in the lower reaches of the Tualatin River and its tributaries in northwestern Oregon, especially during low-flow periods when the water is warm but algal photosynthesis is minimal. During such periods, SOD can account for a large fraction of the total DO consumed. The U.S. Geological Survey investigated the effects of SOD in the Tualatin River and determined that SOD and water-column oxygen demand are the largest overall sinks for DO in the Tualatin River.
In order to manage and potentially reduce the effects of SOD, it is important to determine the sources of the organic matter delivered to stream sediments. Potential sources of such organic matter include not only algae, but aquatic plants, soils, terrestrial plant material, and possibly the particulate in effluent from wastewater treatment facilities. Many of these materials, however, may be distinguished from one another through measurements of the content and characteristics of the carbon and nitrogen present in that organic matter. Measurements of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen have been used for many years to investigate the nature and sources of organic matter in freshwater systems, and that was the approach used to isolate the major contributor to SOD in the Tualatin River.
Listen to a podcast interview with the study's chief investigator (episode 11).
Water-Quality Monitoring for a Pilot Piling-Removal Field Evaluation, Coal Creek Slough, Washington, 2008–09, by Elena B. Nilsen and David Alvarez
Modeling Hydrodynamics, Water Temperature, and Water Quality in the Klamath River Upstream of Keno Dam, Oregon, 2006–09, by Annett B. Sullivan and Stewart A. Rounds, U.S. Geological Survey; Michael L. Deas, Watercourse Engineering, Inc.; Jessica R. Asbill, Bureau of Reclamation; Roy E. Wellman, Marc A. Stewart, and Matthew W. Johnston, U.S. Geological Survey; and I. Ertugrul Sogutlugil, Watercourse Engineering, Inc.
Preliminary Assessment of Channel Stability and Bed-Material Transport along Hunter Creek, Southwestern Oregon, by Krista L. Jones, J. Rose Wallick, Jim E. O’Connor, Mackenzie K. Keith, Joseph F. Mangano, and John C. Risley
Use of Acoustic Backscatter and Vertical Velocity to Estimate Concentration and Dynamics of Suspended Solids in Upper Klamath Lake, South-Central Oregon: Implications for Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, by Tamara M. Wood and Jeffrey W. Gartner
Occurrence and Distribution of Pesticides in Surface Waters of the Hood River Basin, Oregon, 1999–2009, by Whitney B. Temple and Henry M. Johnson
Estimation of Bed-Material Transport in the Lower Chetco River, Oregon, Water Years 2009–2010 , by J. Rose Wallick and Jim E. O’Connor
Three-Dimensional Model of the Geologic Framework for the Columbia Plateau Regional Aquifer System, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, by Erick R. Burns, David S. Morgan, Rachael S. Peavler, and Sue C. Kahle
Total Dissolved Gas and Water Temperature in the Lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, Water Year 2010: Quality-Assurance Data and Comparison to Water-Quality Standards, by Dwight Q. Tanner, Heather M. Bragg, and Matthew W. Johnston
Water Quality in the North Santiam River Basin, Oregon-Comparison of Water-Quality Data for Water Year 2007 with the Preceding Period of Record, by David R. Piatt, Matthew W. Johnston, Heather M. Bragg, Amy M. Brooks, Steven Sobieszczyk, and Mark A. Uhrich
Estimates of Tracer-Based Piston-Flow Ages of Groundwater From Selected Sites: National Water-Quality Assessment Program, 1992–2005, by Stephen R. Hinkle, Stephanie D. Shapiro, L. Niel Plummer, Eurybiades Busenberg, Peggy K. Widman, Gerolamo C. Casile, and Julian E. Wayland
Of Current Interest
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
USGS Repeat Photography Project Documents Retreating Glaciers in Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park’s namesake glaciers have receded rapidly since the park’s establishment in 1910, primarily due to long-term changes in regional and global climate. In the last century, the 5 warmest years have occurred in the last 8 years - in this order: 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004 (NASA). These changes include warming, particularly of daily minimum temperatures, and persistent droughts. This warming is ongoing and the loss of the Park’s glaciers continues, with the park’s glaciers predicted to disappear by 2030.
Climate change research in Glacier National Park, Montana entails many methods of documenting the landscape change, including the decline of the park’s namesake glaciers. While less quantitative than other high-tech methods of recording glacial mass, depth, and rate of retreat, repeat photography has become a valuable tool for communicating effects of global warming. With evidence of worldwide glacial recession and modeled predictions that all of the park’s glaciers will melt by the year 2030, USGS scientists have begun the task of documenting glacial decline through photography. The striking images created by pairing historic images with contemporary photos has given “global warming” a face and made “climate change” a relevant issue to viewers. The images are an effective visual means to help viewers understand that climate change contributes to the dynamic landscape changes so evident in Glacier National Park.
Read more about the project at http://nrmsc.usgs.gov/repeatphoto/.
Receive instant, customized updates about water conditions by subscribing to WaterAlert
The U.S. Geological Survey WaterAlert service sends e-mail or cell phone text messages when certain parameters measured by a USGS data-collection station exceed user-definable thresholds. The development and maintenance of the WaterAlert system is supported through the USGS Cooperative Water Program, the USGS National Streamflow Information Program, and by USGS data-collection partners, including numerous federal, state, and local agencies.
WaterAlert subscribers can customize the message for a variety of water-related scenarios, from floods, droughts, and water-quality disturances to planning for the perfect canoeing and fishing conditions. WaterAlert can be set to send notices hourly or once a day and can be configured to be greater than or less than a threshold, or within a specified range. This service is available for all real-time hydrologic monitoring sites for surface water, groundwater, or water-quality parameters.
Real-time data from USGS gages are transmitted via satellite or other telemetry to USGS offices at various intervals; in most cases, once every 1 or 4 hours. Emergency transmissions, such as during floods, may be more frequent. Notifications will be based on the data received at these site-dependent intervals.
Customize your WaterAlert settings at http://water.usgs.gov/wateralert.