Studying the Eel River Watershed

I’m Bill Dietrich, I’m a
professor in the department of
Earth and Planetary Science
here at UC Berkeley. And I’m a geomorphologist,
so that means I’m interested
in the form and the evolution
of landscapes. Our group is focused on
watersheds. A watershed is the area that
drains to a common point. The Eel River drains about
9500 square kilometers. And it has only one dam on it,
it’s one of the least disturbed
watersheds in all of
Northern California. And it has a significant
salmon run in it. Every two weeks our group goes
up to the Eel river watershed, to make measurements to figure
out how the watershed works. Jesse>>This area that were
driving through right now is
in the Northern California
coast ranges. Yeah, so our plan for the
day is to collect water
samples from a lot of
different wells and from
the streams at this site. My name is Jesse Hahm
and I am a PhD student at the University of California
Berkeley, and I work in Bill
Dietrichs lab. So we have two field sites
here in the Eel River watershed This one which is a grassland
and our second site which is
an evergreen forest. At both sites were collecting
lots of data to understand how
much water is in the
critical zone. The critical zone is this layer
above fresh rock where all of
the water is stored. When rain comes it percolates
down and then that ground water
is slowly flowing down hill all
the time, and as it flows down hill it me
the streams, and thats where
the water in the stream is
coming from. It’s kind of like a big sponge in
the subsurface and one of the most important
things to know is how thick is
that sponge and once we know that we can
then ask, how much water is
in that sponge? When we want to know how
much water is in the critical
zone, we drill holes into the ground
then we just look to see where
the water rises to in the wells So this is one of our wells,
and right now we are going
to figure out how deep it is
to the water table, and we’re going to use this
device which goes down and
then it beeps once it hits the
ground water. We have a variety of instrument
that we can drop down the wells. Most of them are measuring how
much water is in the subsurface and they are also telling us
where the water table is. So…six point eight..six point
eight five…. Sami>>My name is Sami Cargill
and I am a field technician at
Eel River Critical Zone
Observatory. So one of the things that I
typically do is collect water
samples. We basically collect a large
bottle of water from either
a well or a stream wherever
were collecting it from. And then we want to subsample
it, so we want to put it into
smaller bottles that we use to
run different tests on. When we collect data in the
field we write everything down
in our field books. We want to make sure that we
collect good quality data so
that nothing is compromised, the numbers that we get
actually reflect whats going
on. Jesse>>Ready to load up?
Brandon>>Yeah, lets do it.
Jesse>>Let’s get out of here. Brandon>>Alright!
Sami>>Away we go! Today we’re at our Rivendale
field site in the Eel River
watershed and we will be
collecting similar data to
yesterday. Sami>>We probably want
to go down to about 20.5
Jesse>>Great. Sami>>I like my job as a
fget to go outside all the time, I get to see new things
everytime I go to work. I get to experience all the different types of
weather that occur – see the seasons pass. Jesse>>By studying the
critical zone we understand how
much water this watershed can
store. The data that we’ve collected
at this site has shown that the
critical zone is much thicker
here, and that means that it can
store a lot more of the winter
rains. The ecosystem here has a lot
higher productivity theres
bigger trees and bigger forest. And it also means that the
water in the critical zone can
feed the streams here year
round, and that year round flow
in the streams is really
important for sustaining native
fish species that live in the
creeks here. Bill>>All the water flowing
in streams in California during
the summer comes from hillslopes and
comes specifically from the
critical zone. So this region underneath
hillslopes that extends down
to fresh bedrock is like a
sponge that stores water in the
winter and slowly releases
it in the summer. And that slow release is what
controls flow in California
streams, it’s why there are salmon
in California. We’re thinking of the watershed,
by looking at a hillslope as a
building block of a watershed. And so if you can understand
how the hydrology works of a
hillslope, one hillslope really well,
then you can say well I just multiply that
times all the hillslopes in a
watershed and I can tell how the
watershed works. The value of that, or the
approach of that is if we
understand how things really work, we think
we can get a better
prediction or explanation of how watersheds will
store and release water and how they will
respond to climate
change and land use.

1 thought on “Studying the Eel River Watershed

  1. Humboldt and Mendocino have issued way too many well permits… the only sustainable method going forward seems to be runoff catchment during high water events. Unfortunately the fish in the Eel will likely be gone by the time we figure this out.

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