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Development of continuous bathymetry and two-dimensional hydraulic models for the Willamette River, Oregon

April 18, 2022

The Willamette River is home to at least 69 species of fish, 33 of which are native, including Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). These fish need suitable hydraulic conditions, such as water depth and velocity, to fulfill various stages of their life. Hydraulic conditions are driven by interactions between channel morphology and streamflow, which throughout the Willamette River are strongly influenced by the operation of flood-control dams in upstream tributaries. To assess how streamflow management at these dams affects downstream fish habitat, the U.S. Geological Survey has developed high-resolution bathymetric datasets to support the development of two-dimensional hydraulic models. The datasets were created by combining data collected by airborne topo-bathymetric Light Detection and Ranging with boat-based sonar to create a seamless modeling surface over which a computational mesh with a resolution of roughly 5 by 5 meters was overlaid using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Hydraulic Engineering Center’s River Analysis System 5.0.7 hydraulic modeling software. Models were developed for about 200 river kilometers, separated into five modeling reaches, and hydraulic conditions were simulated at flows ranging from extremely low values to annual peak flows. Results of the simulations highlight distinct patterns of inundation extents, water depths, and velocities that vary longitudinally along the Willamette River. In the two farthest upstream model reaches, from Eugene to Corvallis, the river is slower, shallower, and inundates more area at similar seasonal flows than in reaches downstream from Corvallis, where the river generally is deeper and faster. These findings align with previous geomorphic analysis of the Willamette River showing the upper reaches of the river to be geomorphically more dynamic compared to the largely single-thread channel farther downstream. Results of simulations made with these hydraulic models can be used to drive fish-habitat models to further inform flow-management decisions.