Monday, February 6, 2012

River Restoration Northwest

In Oregon for two weeks, learning an awful lot about how the specific regulatory and physical environment of the state and the region shape the process of trying to define credits in streams, wetlands, ecosystem services and -- well, you name it.  Temperature?  Salmonid habitat?  How many of these credits do you get for removing a dam?  More on this later, I hope, but Oregon's specific history with the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act is overlayed with the ubiquity of hydropower projects going through FERC relicensing -- this means the federal resource agencies can require them to be retrofitted with fish-passage gear, which is often less expensive than removing them entirely.  To a midwesterner, there is an absolutely shocking amount of money sloshing around the region being aimed at fish habitat improvement -- both from regulatory and granting sources.  Its true that the Clinton Administration's aggressive listing of endangered species in the region changed everything -- but it also turned on a firehose of federal and national money that has lasted and grown.

And at the River Restoration Northwest conference, at the lovely Skamania Lodge, I learned that -- as with wetlands in the 1980s, a lot of the basic science around stream restoration has yet to be sorted out.  Are standard measures of streamflow even applicable in high-gradient streams?  How can we get rivers to self-engineer by injecting 50 tons of gravel upstream and let it sort itself out?  What happens if the removal of top predators becomes a driver of river morphology because the explosion of grazing destabilizes streambanks?  (see Bob Bechta's excellent work on this).   That's right -- wolves as a driver of geomorphology.  Love it.

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