Archive for category Geology & Hydrology & Climate

Willamette River solutions, version 2009

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 30, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Image from National Resources Committee Special Advisory Committee on Water Pollution, Water Pollution in the United States (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939).

There were two noteworthy pieces on efforts to restore the Willamette River in the Sunday Oregonian, both by Joe Whitworth.

The first is titled “Evolve or Die: It’s Crunch Time for the Willamette.” This article begins by noting the rate of snow pack loss in the Cascades since 1955, which directly impacts the flow of the tributaries of the Willamette River and, therefore, the flow of the Willamette, which, in turn, degrades habitat and concentrates pollution. Whitworth concludes the article by describing a new system of managing and fast-tracking stream enhancement projects that could help us rectify stream quality issues in a wide-ranging and coordinated manner. He writes:

the consequences of how we’ve used our watersheds and waterways have come into focus: Runoff of pollutants, erosion and overheated streams mean degraded water quality and impaired aquatic habitat. Because tributaries and rivers operate like veins and arteries, good spots here and there cannot correct accumulated negative impacts. We need contiguous, functioning stream zones that sweep across whole basins if we hope to correct current downward trajectories for fish, water quality and even economic prosperity.

Whitworth’s second article is titled “An Oregon Roadmap for Healthier Rivers.” This shorter article outlines how new technologies and approaches introduced in Oregon to improve water quality can become a national model.

Whitworth describes a watershed-level approach to water quality that has its roots in the efforts of the New Deal National Resources Committee (NRC) from the 1930s.[1] After reviewing below highlights from some of these efforts between the 1930s and early 1960s, a cynic could say that the process that Whitworth outlines and advocates for is just another in a long line of efforts, and yet the river continues to degrade. An optimist might say that our approaches are getting increasingly more refined and, therefore, perhaps we’re finally getting closer to a lasting solution. Based on the historical evidence below, I’ll let the reader decide . . . Read the rest of this entry »



Willamette River hydrologic & geographic changes over time

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 16, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

The image above came from p. 4 of Portland’s Willamette River Atlas, and it shows a fascinating comparison of the lower Willamette River in 1888 (left) and 2001. This map shows the significant hydrologic and topographic changes to the river over the past 130 years or so.

Compare these two images and you’ll see how we have filled-in lakes, covered-over streams, and channelized the main stem of the river. Check out all of the former lakes at the northern limits of Portland and on the north Portland peninsula, most of which have disappeared since the late nineteenth century. Also note that Swan Island (in the center of each map) is no longer an island.

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Not Seeing the River for the Trees

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on July 2, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There is one comment at the original post.]

Below is the text of my presentation proposal for the American Society of Environmental History’s 2011 conference in Phoenix, April 12-17:

    “Not Seeing the River for the Trees: How Place Fostered and Constrained Human Actions Along Oregon’s Willamette River”

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