Hydrology & Water Quality
In this study, we quantified the relevance of natural controls (e.g., geology, catchment physiography) on suspended sediment yield (SSY) in headwater streams managed for timber harvest. We collected and analyzed six years of data from 10 sites (five headwater sub-catchments and five watershed outlets) in the Trask River Watershed (western Oregon, United States).
The scientists found that local variability in stream habitat, such as water depth and instream cover, play a greater role in reducing the effects of timber harvest and climate change on trout than previously realized. Instream cover and shade improve trout survival by providing a place to hide from predators.
The Alsea Watershed Study Revisited in the Oregon Coast Range provided a unique opportunity to investigate and compare the stream temperature responses to contemporary forest harvesting practices (i.e., maintenance of riparian vegetation) with the impacts from historical (1960s) harvesting practices (i.e., no riparian vegetation).
Glyphosate, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), imazapyr, sulfometuron methyl (SMM), and metsulfuron methyl (MSM) were measured in streamwater collected during and after a routine application of herbicides to a forestry site in Oregon’s Coast Range. Samples were collected at three stations: HIGH at the fish/no-fish interface in the middle of the harvest/spray unit; MID at the bottom of the unit; and LOW downstream of the unit. All herbicides were applied by helicopter in a single tank mix. AMPA, imazapyr, SMM, and MSM were not detected (ND) in any sample at 15, 600, 500, and 1000 ng/L, respectively. A pulse of glyphosate peaking at ≈62 ng/L manifested at HIGH during the application. Glyphosate pulses peaking at 115 ng/L (MID) and 42 ng/L (HIGH) were found during the first two post-application storm events 8 and 10 days after treatment (DAT), respectively: glyphosate was <20 ng/L (ND) at all stations during all subsequent storm events. All glyphosate pulses were short-lived (4 to 12 h). Glyphosate in baseflow was ≈25 ng/L at all stations 3 DAT and was still ≈25 ng/L at HIGH, but ND at the other stations, 8 DAT: subsequently, glyphosate was ND in baseflow at all stations. These results show that aquatic organisms were subjected to multiple short-duration, low-concentration glyphosate pulses corresponding to a cumulative time-weighted average (TWA) exposure of 6634 ng/L*h. Comparisons to TWA exposures associated with a range of toxicological endpoints for sensitive aquatic organisms suggests a margin of safety exceeding 100 at the experimental site, with the only potential exception resulting from the ability of fish to detect glyphosate via olfaction. For imazapyr, SMM, and MSM the NDs were at concentrations low enough to rule out effects on all organisms other than aquatic plants, and the low concentration and (assumed) pulsed nature of any exposure should mitigate this potential.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, Hale and McDonnell (2016) showed that bedrock permeability controlled base flow mean transit times (MTTs) and MTT scaling relations across two different catchment geologies in western Oregon. This paper presents a process-based investigation of storage and release in the more permeable catchments to explain the longer MTTs and (catchment) area-dependent scaling. Our field-based study includes hydrometric, MTT, and groundwater dating to better understand the role of subsurface catchment storage in setting base flow MTTs. We show that base flow MTTs were controlled by a mixture of water from discrete storage zones: (1) soil, (2) shallow hillslope bedrock, (3) deep hillslope bedrock, (4) surficial alluvial plain, and (5) suballuvial bedrock. We hypothesize that the relative contributions from each component change with catchment area. Our results indicate that the positive MTT-area scaling relationship observed in Part 1 is a result of older, longer flow path water from the suballuvial zone becoming a larger proportion of streamflow in a downstream direction (i.e., with increasing catchment area). Our work suggests that the subsurface permeability structure represents the most basic control on how subsurface water is stored and therefore is perhaps the best direct predictor of base flow MTT (i.e., better than previously derived morphometric-based predictors). Our discrete storage zone concept is a process explanation
for the observed scaling behavior of Hale and McDonnell (2016), thereby linking patterns and processes at scales from 0.1 to 100 km2.
The effect of bedrock permeability and underlying catchment boundaries on stream base flow mean transit time (MTT) and MTT scaling relationships in headwater catchments is poorly understood. Here we examine the effect of bedrock permeability on MTT and MTT scaling relations by comparing 15 nested research catchments in western Oregon; half within the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest and half at the site of the Alsea Watershed Study. The two sites share remarkably similar vegetation, topography, and climate and differ only in bedrock permeability (one poorly permeable volcanic rock and the other more permeable sandstone). We found longer MTTs in the catchments with more permeable fractured and weathered sandstone
bedrock than in the catchments with tight, volcanic bedrock (on average, 6.2 versus 1.8 years, respectively). At the permeable bedrock site, 67% of the variance in MTT across catchments scales was explained by drainage area, with no significant correlation to topographic characteristics. The poorly permeable site had opposite scaling relations, where MTT showed no correlation to drainage area but the ratio of median flow path length to median flow path gradient explained 91% of the variance in MTT across seven catchment scales. Despite these differences, hydrometric analyses, including flow duration and recession analysis, and storm response analysis, show that the two sites share relatively indistinguishable hydrodynamic behavior. These results show that similar catchment forms and hydrologic regimes hide different subsurface routing, storage, and scaling behavior—a major issue if only hydrometric data are used to define hydrological similarity for assessing land use or climate change response.
This study measured the impacts of two harvest entries on the monthly streamflow and other measures of the streams below and adjacent to harvest. Statistically significant increases in sediment yield, as suspended sediment, were detected as a consequence of timber harvest in the South Fork Hinkle Creek. These increases were detected at the small, headwater watershed scale as well as the large watershed scale. Unlike the increases in water yield, these increases were not consistent with the literature. The results of the seminal paired watershed studies showed very large increases in sediment yield, often as much as two or three times greater than sediment yields before timber harvest. The results from contemporary forest practices are much more muted and the increases are in the range of 20 to 30 percent increases in sediment yield. The increases are in order with and correlate well with the increases in water yield. That the increases in sediment yield are a result of increased stream power due to increases in water yield is a reasonable hypothesis to put forward to explain these observations. The greatest improvement in forest practices over the past several decades were directed toward reducing the impacts of timber harvest on sediment yield. These improvements include; clearcut size limits and adjacency constraints, improved yarding systems (in this case slackline, skyline cable systems), the prescription of buffer strips, and changes in site preparation practices.
One of the overarching objectives of the Hinkle Creek Paired Watershed Study was to investigate the impact of contemporary forest practices on stream temperature for non-fish-bearing streams and the cumulative impacts downstream on the fish-bearing tributaries and the main stem. This presentation is a large collection of data gathered about to conditions in Hinkle including canopy closure, minimum and maximum daily temperature, residence time, and groundwater influx. Statistically significant decreases in minimum daily temperature were detected for all of the treatment streams. Clearcuts adjacent to the fish-bearing tributaries and the main stem resulted in statistically significant increases and decreases to maximum daily stream temperatures. There was no empirical evidence that the changes in stream temperature detected at the scale of individual stream reaches were propagated downstream.
This dissertation integrates a process-based hydrological investigation with an ongoing paired-catchment study to better understand how forest harvest impacts catchment function at multiple scales. This is done by addressing fundamental questions related to the stocks, flows and transit times of water. Isotope tracers are used within a top-down catchment intercomparison framework to investigate the role of geology in controlling streamwater mean transit time and their scaling relationships with the surrounding landscape. We found that streams draining catchments with permeable bedrock geology at the Drift Creek watershed in the Oregon Coast Range had longer mean transit times than catchments with poorly permeable bedrock at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in the Oregon Cascades. We also found that differences in permeability contrasts within the subsurface controlled whether mean transit time scaled with indices of catchment topography (for the poorly permeable bedrock) or with catchment area (for the permeable bedrock). We then investigated the process-reasons for the observed differences in mean transit time ranges and scaling behavior using a detailed, bottom-up approach to characterize subsurface water stores and fluxes.
The paired catchment approach has been the predominant method for detecting the effects of disturbance on catchment-scale hydrology. Notwithstanding, the utility of this approach is limited by regression model sample size, variability between paired catchments, type II error, and the inability of locating a long-term suitable control. An increasingly common practice is to use rainfall-runoff models to discern the effect of disturbance on hydrology, but few hydrologic model studies (1) consider problems associated with model identification, (2) use formal statistical methods to evaluate the significance of hydrologic change relative to variations in rainfall and streamflow, and (3) apply change detection models to undisturbed catchments to test the approach. We present an alternative method to the paired catchment approach and improve on stand-alone hydrologic modeling to discern the effects of forest harvesting at the catchment scale. Our method combines rainfall-runoff modeling to account for natural fluctuations in daily streamflow, uncertainty analyses using the generalized likelihood uncertainty estimation method to identify and separate hydrologic model uncertainty from unexplained variation, and GLS regression change detection models to provide a formal experimental framework for detecting changes in daily streamflow relative to variations in daily hydrologic and climatic data.