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GIS Methodology for Characterizing Historical Conditions of the Willamette River Flood Plain, Oregon

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Recent environmental developments have stimulated an interest in conservation and restoration of the historical Willamette River flood plain, both to protect against flooding and to provide wildlife habitat. In order to best utilize scarce resources, we characterized historical and modern river channel and flood-plain conditions to evaluate changes and help prioritize restoration sites. Using cartographic and photographic data sources, we developed a Geographic Information System (GIS) to map active channels, side channels, islands and tributaries for four separate dates, as well as riparian and flood-plain vegetation characteristics for pre-European settlement and modern time periods. Coverages based on flood records and other boundaries were used to partition the flood plain into spatial subsets for analysis. The GIS allowed comparisons between historical and present conditions for a variety of environmental factors. Much of the pre-settlement channel complexity has been removed. Total channel length in 1995 was 26% less than in 1850, with almost 58% of the river's side channels disconnected from the system. In addition, we found a 72% loss of flood-plain forest from 1850 to 1995, since it was converted to agricultural and urban land uses. Selected river and flood-plain variables were made available for a spatial model to prioritize potential locations for flood-plain restoration.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Forest Science Oregon State University 2: Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Oregon State University

Publication date: June 1, 2004

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