Why groundwater matters

Nov 11, 2014
Monitoring groundwater levels tells an important story as we work to restore the health of Whychus Creek and its surrounding meadows.


Back in October, the Land Trust announced that we protected an additional 480 acres and doubled the size of Whychus Canyon Preserve. This addition to Whychus Canyon Preserve contains about two miles of Whychus Creek and two large meadows that will become a central feature in upcoming restoration efforts.

To get a better understanding of the current ecological health of the property, we’ve worked with the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council to install groundwater monitoring wells. The wells were installed this year and will measure levels before, during, and after the Whychus Creek restoration.

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand, and rock.

 
UnhealthyGroundwaterIllustration
UnhealthyGroundwaterIllustration
UnhealthyGroundwaterIllustration

 A straightened stream leads to depleted groundwater levels and creates an unhealthy meadow.

 

 

HealthyGroundwaterIllustration
HealthyGroundwaterIllustration
HealthyGroundwaterIllustration

A meandering stream slows water, stores groundwater, and creates a lush meadow.
Illustrations: Restoration Design Group for American Rivers


Why does groundwater matter?
Besides providing an important source of drinking water, groundwater helps regulate the temperature of creeks and rivers for plants, fish and wildlife. In warm summer months when streams are low, groundwater is naturally released into creeks and helps cool waters to keep them at a healthy temperature for fish. Groundwater at places like Whychus Canyon Preserve

will play an important role in helping returning steelhead and salmon thrive in Whychus Creek.

One of the main goals of the restoration of Whychus Creek at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve was to increase groundwater levels. Since the restoration, groundwater levels have risen by mroe than two feet. This indicates a healthier meadow and happier Whychus Creek where fish, birds, and other wildlife can flourish. The new addition to Whychus Canyon Preserve will also see a major restoration of Whychus Creek and it will be interesting to see how groundwater levels change there.

How do the groundwater wells work?

Groundwater wells are simply PVC pipes that are drilled into the ground. Once the pipe is in place, we can measure the distance of the groundwater from the ground's surface and track how that measurement changes over time.

Measuring groundwater in these initial years before the Whychus Creek restoration begins is an important step in establishing baseline water levels. We are especially interested in groundwater measurements during the growing season, which will help us choose appropriate plants for restoration projects. As we work to restore Whychus Creek, these wells will also help us see how our work effects the groundwater and surrounding meadows and creek.