Thursday, July 26, 2018
That's a Huge River! Well, Not Exactly...Sediments in the Siuslaw River Estuary
There is a Siuslaw River, of course, but it is just not quite this big. It is 120 miles long, starting at an elevation of 636 feet in the Oregon Coast Ranges, draining an area of about 773 square miles. The discharge of the river varies greatly depending on the season. The long-term average is around 3,000 cubic feet per second, but last week when I was there it was a mere 145 cubic feet per second. During the worst of flooding the river can exceed 50,000 cfs. But it is the lower part of the river that is affected most by the tides. During extreme high tides, changes in river level can be noted 26 miles upstream.
It didn't occur to me at the time, but this is not a natural channel. Because of the ship traffic, the channel is dredged to maintain sufficient depth for the boats to pass through. There are other changes in the last century. The drainage of the Siuslaw is one of the most heavily logged regions in Oregon, and the clearcutting of timber has changed the nature of slope failure and flooding on the river. Trees and logjams used to trap sediment upstream, providing a rich breeding ground for salmon. The logjams were removed and the river scoured the channel to bedrock in many places. One of the most destructive activities was the process of "splash-dam" logging. Temporary dams were built across the river and trees were cut and floated in the reservoir. The reservoir was then dynamited and the resulting flood carried the logs downstream to the mills. The practice, needless to say, was hugely destructive of the salmon fisheries. Over the years the salmon runs declined from hundreds of thousands of fish each year to mere thousands.
sources I checked pointed out that the Siuslaw once was the second richest salmon fishery in Oregon after the Columbia River. Efforts are being made to improve the environment to build the salmon runs. They'll never be what they were a century ago given the vast changes upstream, but there is a lot of potential for growth of fish populations. In the meantime, it is an interesting place to visit if you are ever lucky enough to find yourself on the central Oregon coast (especially during the present heat wave!).