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Monitoring framework for evaluating hydrogeomorphic and vegetation responses to environmental flows in the Middle Fork Willamette, McKenzie, and Santiam River Basins, Oregon

November 14, 2018

This report summarizes a framework for monitoring hydrogeomorphic and vegetation responses to environmental flows in support of the Willamette Sustainable Rivers Program (SRP). The SRP is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to provide ecologically sustainable flows downstream of dams while still meeting human needs and congressionally authorized purposes. TNC, USACE, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) developed this framework specifically for the spawning reaches and lower, alluvial reaches of the Middle Fork Willamette, McKenzie, North Santiam, South Santiam, and main-stem Santiam Rivers. This monitoring framework links stakeholder-defined ecological goals and environmental flow recommendations with measurable objectives and monitoring activities to assess whether those objectives are achieved. Monitoring activities are described for distinct spatial scales (reaches, zones, and sites), which are coupled with appropriate measurement frequency (monthly to decadal or following specific flow conditions). Initial monitoring efforts could focus on developing baseline datasets for tracking future changes and developing robust relationships between flow and hydrogeomorphic and vegetation processes. These relationships would support stakeholders in developing refined environmental flow recommendations that could be efficiently evaluated in the future using continuous discharge records and strategic field-based monitoring.

Environmental flow recommendations were developed to achieve certain hydraulic targets (generally defined through water-surface elevation and inundation extent) to support critical habitats for native species at different times of the year. Additionally, flow recommendations were created to support geomorphic processes that create and sustain important riparian and aquatic habitats. The spatial extent, depth, timing, duration, and frequency of inundation extents can be monitored using a combination of water-level loggers, crest-stage gages, surveys, and mapping from aerial photographs or satellite images. Changes in channel morphology (such as increases in gravel bars, side channels or channel width) can be evaluated through repeat mapping of aerial photographs or lidar and carried, and repeat surveys of channel-bed elevations could document patterns of incision or aggradation. Changes in bed texture (such as fining or coarsening) could focus on spawning habitats for spring Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Deposition of fine-grained sediment in floodplain channels could be evaluated with deposition pads, repeat surveys, or lidar.

Environmental flow recommendations also were developed to promote various stages of floodplain forest succession, with a focus on black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) because its life history is tightly coupled with floodplain hydrology and disturbance processes. Monitoring approaches for vegetation include strategies for tracking all phases of stand recruitment, establishment, and succession for black cottonwood. Potential recruitment sites can be identified by mapping unvegetated gravel bars from aerial photographs or lidar. Reach-scale patterns of stand recruitment and early succession can be monitored at the reach scale by mapping seral stages of floodplain vegetation from aerial photographs and lidar at the decadal scale. These monitoring approaches also could identify areas of stand recruitment or floodplain recycling. Site-scale monitoring of black cottonwood recruitment and establishment could focus on vegetation plots situated along floodplain transects within laterally dynamic monitoring zones to track seedling establishment or stem exclusion and early seral succession. Reach-scale landcover mapping from aerial photographs and lidar would complement site-scale observations and aid in characterizing overall status and condition of floodplain forests, which could be related to streamflows and hydrogeomorphic processes.

Publication Year 2018
Title Monitoring framework for evaluating hydrogeomorphic and vegetation responses to environmental flows in the Middle Fork Willamette, McKenzie, and Santiam River Basins, Oregon
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181157
Authors J. Rose Wallick, Leslie B. Bach, Mackenzie K. Keith, Melissa Olson, Joseph F. Mangano, Krista L. Jones
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2018-1157
Index ID ofr20181157
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Oregon Water Science Center