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After the dam comes out: groundwater-stream interactions and water quality impacts of former reservoir sites

Next week, the Watershed Hydrology Lab will be well represented at the CUAHSI 2014 Biennial Colloquium. We’ll be presenting four posters, so here come the abstracts…

After the dam comes out: groundwater-stream interactions and water quality impacts of former reservoir sites

Krista Brown and Anne Jefferson

Over that past decade, dam removals have become increasingly popular, as many dams near the end of their life expectancy. With an increasing number of anticipated dam removals coming in the near future this study aims to develop an understanding of groundwater-stream interactions and water quality in former reservoir sites after dam removals have occurred. Low head dams (~2 m) were removed in 2009 from Plum Creek in Kent, Portage County, Ohio and on Kelsey Creek in Cuyahoga Falls, Summit County, Ohio. Kelsey Creek reservoir has been unaltered since the dam removal and consists of a stream channel flowing through riparian- wetland environments, while Plum Creek reservoir underwent channel restoration in 2011. At Kelsey Creek, 20 piezometers and 3 wells were installed in the stream and riparian areas. Pressure transducers were also deployed in each well and stream from November 20, 2013 to January 5, 2014. Hydraulic conductivity was calculated using the Hvorslev method. Since October 2013, hydraulic heads have been recorded semi-weekly and water samples have been taken in the wells and stream. Water quality is being evaluated with field-measured pH, temperature, specific conductance, and dissolved oxygen, and ion chromatography of chloride, bromide, nitrate, sulfate and phosphate concentrations. Plum Creek is being used to understand the water quality effects of channel restoration at former reservoir sites.
At Kelsey Creek, hydraulic conductivity ranges five magnitudes, from 10?2 to 10?6 m/s, but wells near the channel, in an off-channel wetland, and on an adjacent hillslope respond similarly during high flow events. However, the well closest to the stream shows substantial variability in specific conductance, indicating bidirectional groundwater-stream exchange. Despite the wetlands and presumed greater groundwater-stream exchange in the unrestored Kelsey Creek, stream water quality is similar to the restored Plum Creek site. This suggests that the water quality measures considered here should not determine whether to restore channels within former reservoir sites. Findings from this research may be applicable when considering options for future dam removal sites.

Meeting report in this week’s Eos

coverIf you missed the “Laser Specs for Field Hydrology and Biogeochemistry: A USGS-CUAHSI Virtual Workshop” we ran from 27 January to 28 February 2014 and you want to read our take on it in ~500 words, check it out in this week’s Eos (the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union). Co-conveners Richard Keim, Carol Kendall, and I are offer up the lessons learned from the cyber-series. Here’s a teaser:

Laser spectroscopy for analysis of stable isotopes is a rapidly emerging technology with the potential to enable new scientific investigations in hydrology and biogeochemistry. The two basic advantages of laser spectroscopy over mass spectrometry—lower instrument cost and ease of use—mean more laboratories can obtain the capability. Portability of instruments allows field deployment with online analysis of large numbers of samples outside the laboratory. However, the novelty of laser spectroscopy for isotope applications means there is little collective experience, so its strengths and limitations are not as well understood as those of mass spectrometry.

Also be on the lookout for a special USGS publication later this year that contains abstracts from the series.

What’s on our calendar? Conferences of interest.

We’re tantalized by many upcoming opportunities to talk science with other folks interested in hydrology, geomorphology, and human-impacted systems.

A little farther out, there are two definite meetings on the lab calendar.

  • The British Hydrological Society is meeting at the University of Birmingham, UK on 2nd-4th September. The theme of the meeting is “Challenging Hydrological Theory and Practice.” Anne will be giving a talk on urban stormwater/stream systems, and is very much looking forward to seeing collaborators Grace Garner, David Hannah, Naomi Tague, Sara McMillan and more.
  • The Geological Society of America meeting is 19th-22nd October in Vancouver, BC. I think as many group members as possible are angling to go to this meeting. Anne will be co-leading a short course on using laser-based isotope technology in undergraduate classes and research.

Save the Date: CUAHSI Biennial Meeting, July 28-30, 2014

logoThe Consortium for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI) is a go-to group for hydrology workshops, conferences, and networking. Their once-every-two-years meeting is a great chance to hear some fantastic talks, meet other researchers and students, and share your work. This year’s meeting is in Sheperdstown, WV (a mere 4.5 hours from Kent) on July 28-30th, and the theme is “Water Across the Critical Zone: From Local to Global Hydrology.” I’m hoping my schedule allows me to be there, and I’m encouraging my students to go too. Hope to see you there!

Virtual workshop on laser isotope technology applications in hydrology

CUAHSI is the consortium of universities for the advancement of hydrologic science, inc. and Kent State University became a full member of the consortium in December 2013. That’s good timing, because for the last year I’ve been sitting on the organizing committee for a virtual workshop sponsored by CUAHSI and USGS, and I’m super excited to announce that it’s finally happening and starting soon.

This workshop focuses on field hydrology and biogeochemistry applications of laser-based isotope technology. This may sound like an esoteric topic, but this technology is rapidly expanding the affordability and availability of stable isotope analyses. When I was in graduate school, the only way to get water isotope data was off an expensive and hard to use isotope ratio mass spectrometer. I traveled 10 hours to access one and I swore I’d never have one in my lab. Now, I walk upstairs to use the slightly less expensive and somewhat easier to use laser spec purring along in my lab. Viva technology!

Over the course of 5 weeks, we’ll have presentations from the manufacturers of the two main laser specs (Picarro and Los Gatos Research), commentary on the technology from experts at the USGS and IAEA, examples of applications from experienced users, and a poster session where we can share our data and experiences. The workshop will occur entirely on the web (thanks, sequester) and you can participate in real time or watch recordings of the talks.

The flyer below gives a lot of the information, but you can out even more at the CUAHSI webpage for the workshop.


I’m looking forward to learning a ton of information during the workshop, sharing some hot-off-the-instrument data that my undergraduate student and I have been collecting, and hopefully sharing the neat ways we’re integrating the technology into our undergraduate geosciences curriculum at KSU. I hope to see you (virtually) there!

Society for Ecological Restoration

On Saturday, I gave a talk at the Midwest-Great Lakes Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) meeting in Wooster, Ohio. This meeting was my introduction to SER, and I was pleased by the mix of academics and practitioners and terrestrial and aquatic folks that the conference brought together. My favorite talks were about working on a restoration in the immediate aftermath of an oil pipeline burst and about creating a freshwater estuary at the mouth of urban Euclid Creek in Cleveland. I think this would be a great meeting to go to as a student: small, friendly, and full of interested folks and potential future employers. (There are even cash prizes for best student poster and talk…and farthest traveled.)

As the final stop of what has come to feel like a speaking tour this spring, I found myself condensing the stream restoration talk down to about 20 minutes. Here’s what the abstract said.

Jefferson, Anne J.*1, Sandra Clinton2, and Mackenzie Osypian2. Evaluating the effects of restoration on transient storage and ecosystem services in urban headwater streams
1. Kent State University, Kent, OH.
?2. University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, NC. ?

In urban watersheds, the capacity of streams to provide essential ecosystem services is often limited as a result of channel straightening, incision and removal of geomorphic features. Stream restoration seeks to provide stream stability while reestablishing ecosystem services, but restoration alone may not mitigate the effects of watershed land-use change and urbanization. Stream restoration activities frequently impact transient storage and hyporheic exchange, the processes by which water movement is slowed down or temporarily detained at the surface or in the streambed. Transient storage and hyporheic exchange zones are important regulators of nutrient retention and stream temperature, and they harbor diverse biological communities. However, it is unknown how successful stream restoration activities are at creating ecologically effective storage and exchange zones that promote improved water quality and diversity. In Charlotte, North Carolina, we have evaluated restored and unrestored streams to quantify and compare transient storage. Our goal is to evaluate the relative success of restoration activities for ecosystem services in urban and forested watersheds. We measured increased transient storage and greater variability in upwelling and downwelling vertical hydraulic gradients in restored relative to unrestored reaches. However, restored reaches had lower hydraulic conductivity of bed sediments, which was likely related to the construction of the restoration. The net effect of restoration was to greatly increase in-stream transient storage, while not appreciably increasing hyporheic exchange. Evaluating the ecological effects from changes in transient storage was complicated by the effects of canopy removal around stream restoration projects, the combination of which resulted in higher water temperatures and reduced benthic diversity. While current practices of urban stream restoration may be successful in creating channel stability, coupling watershed-scale management of stormwater and nutrients with restoration techniques designed to enhance ecologically effective storage and exchange may be required for restoration success in a holistic sense.

March Meanderings

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

It all began at the end of February, when I travelled to La Crosse, Wisconsin to the Upper Midwest Stream Restoration Symposium, which was a really stimulating and vital mix of academics, consultants, and government folks all interested in improving the state of the science and practice of stream restoration. I gave a talk on Evaluating the success of urban stream restoration in an ecosystem services context, which was my first time talking about some hot-off-the-presses UNCC graduate student research, and I learned a lot from the other speakers and poster presenters. While the conference was incredibly stimulating, travel delays due to bad weather on both ends of my trip made for a somewhat grumpy Anne (nobody really wants to spend their birthday stuck in a blizzard in O’Hare), so I’ll be thinking carefully about how to plan my travel to the Upper Midwest during future winters. Nonetheless, the view from the conference venue was phenomenal.

icy river and snowy land

View of the Mississippi River from the Upper Midwest Stream Restoration Symposium in La Crosse, WI. Not shown: bald eagles that frequent the open water patches of the river.

March proper saw me give variations of the restoration talk two other times. On the 15th, I gave it as the seminar for Kent State’s Biological Sciences department, and on the 26th, I gave it at the North Dakota State University Department of Geosciences (more about that trip below). In between, I gave a seminar on the co-evolution of hydrology and topography to the Geology Department at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Students in that department had just returned from a trip to Hawaii, and a very memorable dialogue occured in the midst of me talking about the High Cascades:

“You’ve seen a young lava flow. What would happen if you poured a bottle of water on it?” “It would steam!” “Not that young!”

Closer to home I also hosted a couple of prospective graduate students, helped interview candidates for a faculty position in our department, and went with a colleague to visit an acid mine drainage site about an hour to the south of Kent. In one fairly small watershed, we were able to tour a number of different remediated and unremediated sites, and it certainly lent a whole different perspective to the ideas of stream restoration and constructed wetlands to look at a landscape irrevocably scarred by mining activities.

Orange water flowing from a tube down a hill and into a stream.

Unremediated acid mine drainage flow directly into Huff Run. The orange is iron precipitate.

Wetland plants and a concrete inlet weir.

Constructed wetland as the second stage of acid mine drainage remediation in the Huff Run watershed.

At the end of the month, we finally got our turn for spring break. I ended up with a somewhat epic combination of mounds of work and a big trip to take, possibly the worst combination of the untenured and tenured professor spring break stereotypes (see this PhD comics strip). The first half of the week, I spent in Fargo, North Dakota, home to the famously flood-prone Red River of the North. (I’ve blogged before about why the river so often produces expansive floods.) It was truly fascinating to put my feet on the ground in a place that I’ve read about and watched from afar for years. And my visit was made all the more interesting by my host and guide, Dr. Stephanie Day, a geomorphologist newly at NDSU and who may well unravel some of the Red’s geomorphological peculiarities.

Scientist in foreground, river in midground, background = flat, snowcovered ground.

Stephanie Day, Assistant Professor of Geosciences at North Dakota State University beside the Red River in Moorhead Minnesota. The flat surface in the background is the approximate elevation of the land for miles around.

Looking towards downtown Fargo, ND from the river side of the levee.

Looking towards downtown Fargo, ND from the river side of the levee.

snow and ice covered river, not in much of a valley.

River’s edge view looking towards downtown Fargo. Snow well over knee deep here on 25 March, by my measurements. As all that snow starts to melt, the water will rise.

There’s a pretty good chance we’ll see a major flood on the Red River later this spring, as the >24″ of snow melts out of the watershed, runs off over frozen ground, and enters the northward flowing river. The Fargo Flood page is the place to go to follow the action, and you can count on updates (and more pictures) here as events unfold.

The latter half of my spring break saw me diagonal across the state of Minnesota to my beloved Driftless Area, back across the Mississippi River, and into the state of Wisconsin. I saw my family, finished paper revisions, and wrote part of a grant proposal. Then I flew home, with nary a weather delay in sight.

If March was a tight, recursive meander of talks and trips to the Upper Midwest, then April promises to be a bit anastomosing with lots of different threads woven together to make another month of scientific delight.

Anne’s November Navigations

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous

I’m not joining the exodus of geoscientists to AGU this week; I’m still recovering from November.

I’m not sure whether I spent more time in Ohio or outside of it last month. The month started with the rain and runoff from our brush with Superstorm Sandy, but by November 2nd I had a car packed full of conference and research gear and was heading south to North Carolina. The drive south was a great chance to watch all sorts of geology go by at interstate speeds. I started out in the glaciated Appalachian Plateau, drove south of the glacial limit, crossed the Ohio River, and was soon in the heart of the Appalachians and West Virginia‘s coal mining country. On Interstate 77, the border between West Virginia and Virginia seems to mark the dramatic transition the Valley and Ridge Province, then it is up on to the Blue Ridge and finally down the Blue Ridge Escarpment and into the Piedmont and North Carolina, finally arriving in Charlotte after eight hours of driving. Climatically, I left the cold and damp, drove through the snow left behind by Sandy, and ended up in the warm, sunny, and very dry south.

The Geological Society of America meeting was a busy time. I convened two sessions, helped lead a field trip and had more meetings for committees and with colleagues than I care to remember. But it was a great time to hear about exactly the sorts of science that I find most interesting and to get out in the field with 50 friends and colleagues to talk about new ideas in geomorphology.

  • Geomorphology of the Anthropocene: The Surficial Legacy of Past and Present Human Activities. We had an amazing slate of speakers that packed the room, fantastic poster presenters that drew a crowd, and we were able to announce that we will be editing a special issue of the new journal Anthropocene with papers from the session. Then the journal’s publisher threw us a special reception.
  • Hydrology of Urban Groundwater, Streams, and Watersheds. This session featured another roster of incredible speakers and a kick-ass set of posters featuring many of my students and colleagues from UNC Charlotte.
  • Kirk Bryan Field Trip: Piedmont Potpourris: New Perspectives on An Old Landscape (and Some of its Younger Parts. The annual syn-meeting field trip of the Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology division always features good scenery and intense but friendly discussions. This year we looked at an old mill dam site in an urban stream and channel heads and terrace soils near the Catawba River, and then we climbed a monadnock to talk about Blue Ridge escarpment retreat and the long term evolution of landscapes. Plus, we had a delicious lunch of NC barbecue on our able and charismatic field trip leader’s front lawn.

Missy Eppes atop a red soil pit.

Field trip leader Missy Eppes atop a typically red soil profile, on a terrace above the Catawba River.

50 geomorphologists on the front steps

An enthusiastic and well fed group of geomorphologists and Quaternary geologists on a delightful November day.

Geomorphologists on a rock listening to Ryan McKeon

On top of Crowders Mountain, learning from Ryan McKeon.

After the meeting was over, I stuck around Charlotte for a few days, with plans to do a tracer injection in one of my local field sites. As I’ve already shown you, that didn’t work out so well. So I headed back north.

Back in Ohio, I did some exploring of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which was timely given that I am just about to submit a proposal to do work in the headwater streams in and around the park. I also spent a wonderful day with someone from the Ohio EPA, looking at dam removal and stream restoration sites in the region.

Stream with sediment and trees

Headwater stream near Brandywine Creek, CVNP, November 2012.

My fun explorations of Ohio streams were tempered with sadness though. Just before Thanksgiving, my sweet, 14-year old canine companion, Cleo passed away. She was my longest running and most faithful field assistant, and I’ll miss her forever.

Dog meets spring

Cleo, in ~2005, at one of my PhD field sites.

But then it was off to Baltimore to visit with Claire Welty and the folks at the Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education, who do some of the coolest urban hydrology work around. They also host the Baltimore Ecosystem Study field site.

Sign on door reads "Baltimore Ecosystem Study"

That was just the warm-up for the real reason for my trip, giving a seminar in the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. My talk was on “drainage network evolution is driven by coupled changes in landscape properties and hydrologic response,” in which I attempted to integrate the Oregon Cascades, North Carolina Piedmont, and urban landscapes. It was a thrill and an honor to give a Reds Wolman seminar at JHU, which is my undergraduate alma mater, and the experience was made even more memorable by a morning spent exploring stream restoration sites with Profs. Peter Wilcock and Ciaran Harman. We saw some sites that made some sense, and some that were a bit…non-sensical? I will come out and say it, I’m not a fan of what happened to the little granite pegmatite knickpoint where I went as an undergraduate to try to pretend I wasn’t really in the city. But a bit farther upstream, I could see the value in installing some nice structures that stabilized banks and increased accessibility to the stream in a park popular with joggers and dog-walkers.

JHU profs Wilcock and Harman discuss the restoration of Baltimore's Stony Run

JHU profs Wilcock and Harman discuss the restoration of Baltimore’s Stony Run

And that pretty much brought me to the end of November. I’m looking forward to no travel in December, at least until the end of the month. But that doesn’t mean I won’t stay busy.

Call for GSA abstracts on urban hydrology and anthropogenic geomorphology

I’m convening two fantastic sessions at the upcoming Geological Society of America meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 4-7, 2012. For both sessions there are incredible invited speakers lined up, and all we need to make them an overwhelming success is a strong showing of contributed abstracts. That’s where you come in. If you are interested in the way humans interact with hydrology or landscapes, please consider submitting an abstract by August 14th.

Low head dam

An urban stream in Freedom Park, Charlotte, NC

T101. Hydrology of Urban Groundwater, Streams, and Watersheds
conveners: Anne J. Jefferson, John M. Sharp
This session explores how urbanization affects water quantity, quality, and ecohydrology in groundwater and surface water systems. Field and modeling studies of flow, recharge, water balance, groundwater-stream interactions, water quality, and contamination are welcome. Confirmed invited speakers are Laura Toran, Christina Tague, and Ken Howard.

A straight, ditched stream in northeastern Ohio

A straightened and ditched stream in northeastern Ohio is probably the legacy of agriculture

T24. Geomorphology of the Anthropocene: The Surficial Legacy of Past and Present Human Activities
conveners: Anne J. Jefferson, Karl W. Wegmann, Anne Chin
This session explores the legacy of human activities and land use on earth surface processes and landforms. Studies on the impacts of agriculture, mining, urbanization, and forestry in prehistoric, historic, and modern times are welcome. Confirmed invited speakers are Ellen Wohl, Allan James, and Gary Stinchcomb.

If the descriptions above don’t match your research, but you know someone who would be perfect, please share with them or send me their contact information and I’ll personally reach out. Even if you just think these topics might be interesting to listen to for a few minutes or hours, plan on attending the sessions in November. I’ll share details of dates, times, and locations when the final program is announced.

Cross-posted at Highly Allochthonous