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Technical Report

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Hyprorheic zones, Stream ecology, Water quality -- Models -- Oregon -- Willamette River


Stream temperatures are affected by multiple forcing functions, including surface heat exchange (including solar radiation, evaporation, conduction, and net long wave radiation) and hyporheic flows. Each of these forcing functions is directly influenced by the level of channel complexity in the stream channel and riparian shading. The interrelationship between channel complexity, hyporheic flow and stream temperature is highly complex, and efforts to manage for habitat diversity by managing channel complexity could result in unintended consequences on stream temperature. When planning modifications to stream channel complexity, consideration should be given to the effects such moderations could have on stream temperatures.

Urbanization has impacted many steams due to the construction of bank protections, levees, vegetation removal, etc. Such activities have eliminated side channels and reduced stream braiding, thereby reducing the overall channel complexity. Hulse et al. (2002) developed maps showing the channel configurations of the Willamette River in Oregon, USA in the years 1850 and 1995. These maps show a significant reduction in channel complexity in the intervening years. More complex stream channels provide greater habitat diversity and thus, are generally more desirable from a wildlife management perspective. Therefore, management of streams for increased channel complexity is gaining in popularity.

Knowing that stream channel complexity has diminished over time, an important question to consider is ‘what were stream temperatures before we altered the natural channels?’ This is an important issue in determining what natural conditions were and how we have strayed from these so-called ‘natural’ conditions as a result of channelization, dam building, and changes to the riparian vegetation and deforestation. Current Total Maximum Daily Load’s (TMDL) rely on determining a ‘natural’ condition. In order to develop an understanding of what that is, a hydrodynamic and water quality computer simulation model has been applied to Oregon’s Willamette River with several levels of channel complexity and varying rates of hyporheic flows. Adapting the model used to develop TMDL’s for temperature in the Willamette River, the effects of present and past channel complexity on water temperatures was determined. The model used to develop the TMDL was the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers dynamic 2-D model CE-QUAL-W2, which consists of directly coupled hydrodynamic and water quality transport models and simulates parameters such as temperature, algae concentration, dissolved oxygen concentration, pH, nutrient concentrations and residence time. The model also incorporates a dynamic shading algorithm for both vegetative and topographic shading on water bodies.


Author's version of a technical report that was subsequently published in Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation, TMDL 2007, pp. 563-571. Version of record available at

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