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Temperature Effects of Point Sources, Riparian Shading, and Dam Operations on the Willamette River

image: mckenzie_at_coberg.jpg
McKenzie River at Coberg, OR
(Photo by G. Hess, 19-Jun-2007)
Water temperature is an important factor influencing the migration, rearing, and spawning of several important fish species in rivers of the Pacific Northwest. To protect these fish populations, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality set a water temperature Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) in 2006 for the Willamette River and the lower reaches of its largest tributaries in northwestern Oregon. As a result, the thermal discharges of the largest point sources of heat to the Willamette River now are limited, riparian vegetation has been targeted for restoration, and upstream dams are recognized as important influences on downstream temperatures. Many of the prescribed point-source heat-load allocations are sufficiently restrictive that management agencies may need to expend considerable resources to meet them.

Trading heat allocations among point-source dischargers may be a more economical and efficient means of meeting the cumulative point-source temperature limits set by the TMDL. The cumulative nature of these limits, however, precludes simple one-to-one trades of heat from one point source to another; a more detailed spatial analysis is needed.

In this investigation, the flow and temperature models that formed the basis of the Willamette temperature TMDL were used to determine a spatially indexed heating signature for each of the modeled point sources, and those signatures then were combined into a user-friendly, spreadsheet-based screening tool. The Willamette River Point-Source Heat-Trading Tool allows a user to increase or decrease the heating signature of each source and thereby evaluate the effects of a wide range of potential point-source heat trades. The predictions of the Trading Tool were verified by running the Willamette flow and temperature models under four different trading scenarios, and the predictions typically were accurate to within about 0.005 degrees Celsius.

In addition to assessing the effects of point-source heat trades, the models were used to evaluate the temperature effects of several shade-restoration scenarios along both the Long Tom River and the Willamette River. Restoration of riparian vegetation in these reaches was shown by model runs to have a significant local effect on daily maximum river temperatures. The magnitude of the cooling depends on many factors including river width, flow, time of year, and the difference in vegetation characteristics between current and restored conditions. Downstream of a localized restoration project, the cooling effects can be complex and have a nodal nature: at one-half day of travel time downstream, shade restoration has little effect on daily maximum temperature because water passes the restoration site at night; at 1 full day of travel time downstream, cooling effects increase to a second, diminished maximum. Such spatial complexities may complicate the trading of heat allocations between point and nonpoint sources.

Upstream dams have an important effect on water temperature in the Willamette River system as a result of augmented flows as well as modified temperature releases over the course of the summer and autumn. The TMDL was formulated prior to the installation of a selective withdrawal tower at Cougar Dam on the South Fork McKenzie River; construction was completed early in 2005. Model runs were used to evaluate the likely effects of the new tower on downstream water temperatures.

Results from this investigation have been documented in two USGS Scientific Investigations Reports:

Rounds, S.A., 2007, Temperature effects of point sources, riparian shading, and dam operations on the Willamette River, Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5185, 34 p.
[Available online at:]

Rounds, S.A., 2010, Thermal effects of dams in the Willamette River basin, Oregon: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5153, 64 p.
[Available online at:]


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