The Willamette River basin in Oregon tapped for the USGS Water Supply Study

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The US Geological Survey will conduct an in-depth review of water supply and demand issues in the Willamette River Basin, the fourth in a series of 10 studies to assess the nation’s water availability.

USGS Integrated Water Science Basin studies began with the SAFE WATER ACT 2009, which directed the USGS to establish a national assessment of water availability. The studies – which also include the Delaware River, upper Colorado and Illinois basins – help to better understand water availability nationwide.

“The integrated nature of river health and real water management is well represented by the Willamette River Basin. It supports large cities, fertile agriculture and ecologically important species such as salmon, making it an ideal place to develop better science for future decisions that will affect both the environment and the peoples of the region. Tanya Trujillo, USGS Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science, said in an announcement.

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Observing and analyzing these river systems allows the USGS to provide tools to predict future water conditions, which is important for decisions about flood management, drinking water supply, recreation and other water-related issues.

The USGS chose the Willamette River Basin because its hydrological and environmental setting presents the challenges of conflicting water demands between humans and ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest, according to the USGS.

The USGS noted the challenges faced by salmon species in the Willamette River system. Salmon spawning grounds are often blocked by flood control and government-operated power generation dams, among other concerns.

The Willamette River Basin’s wide range of landscapes, diverse stream types, diverse aquatic ecosystems and their species will be considered in the study’s use of applied science that can help balance the human needs for water management, such as flood control and water supply, with the needs of maintaining ecological stability.

A Chinook salmon swims upstream in a side channel of the McKenzie River at the McKenzie River Trust's Finn Rock Reach Conservation Area September 28, 2020 near Finn Rock.

“The integration of USGS monitoring, research, and modeling in the Willamette River Basin will support innovation around issues common to many Pacific Northwest river systems,” said Don. Cline, USGS associate director for water, in the announcement.

“For example, we expect it to enhance our scientific understanding of seasonal variations in precipitation, interactions between groundwater and surface water, the influence of snowpack on low flows in summer, of watershed response to severe fires and prediction of harmful algal blooms.”

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The USGS will use region-focused data collection, research, and modeling, such as the Next Generation Water Observation System, which provides real-time data on water quantity, quality and use. USGS research will provide a near real-time census of the status, trends, and forecasts of the water available to support various uses in the basin.

The studies will take years. The Delaware River Basin Study, for example, began with a pilot phase in 2019 and was expected to move through other phases over the next 10 years until the final “product delivery” phase.

The USGS will begin assessing existing knowledge gaps and consulting with stakeholders this spring.

Contact journalist Adam Duvernay at [email protected] Follow @DuvernayOR on Twitter.

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