A new look at an old river

Knowledge deepens as scientists survey the bottom of the Columbia

A new map of the Columbia River is in the works that could reveal the best fishing holes and help both windsurfers and boaters avoid rocks and shoals.

On Monday, scientists from the Columbia River Research Lab in Cook, Wash., finished two weeks of charting the river bottom from Bonneville Dam to The Dalles Dam. The five participating U.S. Geological Survey explorers were joined by peers from California and Massachusetts in the high-tech project.

“This will give a lot of good revelant information to users of the resource,” said USGS Geographer James Hatten.

The team loaded a multiple beam sonar system on the 36-foot “Estero” owned by the USGS and made multiple trips up and down a 44 mile stretch of waterway to obtain a “moonscape” view of the hidden depths. As the boat crawled along at five knots, sonar “pings” bounced off the floor of the river and scientists began to see mountains and canyons emerge — and even a series of sand dunes near Wyeth. These underwater vistas unfolded as the scientists painstakingly made a series of parallel passes about 75 feet apart.

“I don’t think I’ll ever look at the river the same after this,” said Tim Counihan, USGS biologist.

Fear of damaging the $500,000 equipment, which dangled about 10 feet below the boat, kept the crew away from some shallow areas. Because of time constraints with the visiting experts, there were also small sections of the river where mapping was unable to be completed. But Counihan said the missing pieces will be fitted into the mapping puzzle next year through a continuation of the exercise.

Meanwhile, Dr. James Petersen, a fishery biologist, said research staffers will now begin adding layers to the baseline map that include water velocity, flow direction and turbidity, and sediment depths.

Within the next two years, they hope to have a multidimensional document that can be posted on a special website for public access. Although the map is expected to aid recreationists, Petersen said the primary purpose behind gathering the data is to learn more about the subterranean ecosystem and the fish communities which inhabit it. They are interested not only in studying the living conditions of endangered migratory salmon runs, but also that of native populations, such as white sturgeon which feed off the river bottom that is now known to reach 130 feet deep in places.

“There are going to be dozens of questions we’ll be able to answer in the not too distant future that we would not have been able to answer before we did this survey,” said Petersen.

One of the questions that could be answered by the new map was raised during the controversy over the removal of Condit Dam. Petersen it is possible that, by studying river channels, scientists will be able to determine where sediments built up behind the structure will end up downstream if released by its destruction.

But the team at the USGS offices in the Gorge will not otherwise be involved in that political dispute. Petersen said the sole mission of the geographers and biologists is to gather data that is turned over to management agencies, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where it is factored into fish protection strategies. Currently, the staff at the Cook office have 40 research projects underway in the Columbia River Basin — but Counihan, Petersen and Hatten agree that creating the new map is definitely the most exciting.

“You’re seeing things in ways you’ve never seen them before — it’s not unlike space exploration,” said Counihan.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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