Monday, October 25, 2010

Montana (and I don't mean the discontiued minivan)

You will have to bare (bear? I’m too lazy to get a dictionary) with me for a few paragraphs throughout this post. I am probably going to regurgitate a lot of stream restoration-specific principles and terminology that could either bore you to death and make you want to pull your eyes out with one of those little ice cream sampler spoons they have at Baskin Robbins or fascinate you and inspire you to get out and enjoy, appreciate, and learn more about the natural environment. I can’t imagine how it would do anything other than the latter, but for those in the first category, this book has pictures! So, I guess, if you want to miss out on an incredible education of river processes and analysis, you could just scroll down and look at the photos and captions. But I know you will want the whole drawn-out scientific explanation behind every detail captured within the photo, so you will want to read all of this. Actually, most of the pictures are just “shiny objects” that caught my eye. In conclusion of my introduction, let me say this post is going to be fairly long (30 pages) (J/K) So, sit back, grab a warm cup of cocoa, draw your blankets tight, and prepare for an unforgettable blogging experience. Here we go!!!

At the end of July, I was able to attend a professional training course called River Assessment and Monitoring. It is the 3rd of 5 levels of training offered by Wildland Hydrology, a leader in stream restoration through extensive research, design and implementation. This class focused on techniques/methods of assessing the condition of rivers. We look at bed degradation or aggradation; bank erosion; changes in pattern, profile and cross-sectional dimension; and sediment competence and capacity. The class lasted two weeks with 1-2 days of lecture in class, 3 days of field work, and about 4-5 days of data analysis and presentations. We basically have a class day, then go in the field the next day, analyze the data we collected the next day, then present our analysis the next day and do that through 3 cycles. So there was a lot of work, a lot of late nights in a rustic conference center out in the middle of nowhere. Oh, but it was in the hills of western MONTANA.

I flew out of Lexington early and would have missed my flight if it hadn’t been delayed for more than an hour so the flight crew could finish their McBreakfast platters. I landed in Chicago with just enough time to sprint through the entire airport knocking down old-ladies and punting infant-filled strollers and carseats out of my way. (I did have to sprint). They were literally closing the doors when I got there. So then I flew into Seattle, which, let me tell you, is a beautiful approach… wow. Grabbed some lunch there and then caught my plane to Missoula. The Missoula airport is pretty small, I mean there wasn’t a little guy shouting “de plane, de plane”, but there was more rental car places than depart/arrive gates. I stepped out into the hot, dry air and thought all things were right in the world. Not even the HHR (a cross between a minivan and a pt cruiser) that enterprise gave me could bring down my excitement. I picked up some groceries for the week and headed out to Lubrecht Experimental Forest a sort of “campground” for forestry research in conjunction with the University of Montana. On the way, I spotted a forest fire in one of the neighboring forests (something you don’t see everyday “back East”).

So here is some background on the stuff we were learning…
Much of the condition of a stream is based on a departure from reference conditions. Reference conditions demonstrate the geomorphically stable form for the type of stream that is located in the surrounding conditions of a watershed. It might be easier to explain geomorphically unstable; that would be one some or all of the following: a lot of bank erosion, aggradation or degradation (rising or lowering) of the channel bed, significant changes in the channel substrate (the rocks are getting smaller/bigger); and too frequent or not frequent enough access to the floodplain at bankfull conditions (bankfull is typically understood as the incipient elevation on the bank where flooding begins, also, the bankfull discharge is responsible for the formation, maintenance, and dimensions of the channel as it exists under the modern climatic regime. A bankfull event typically occurs every 1-1.5 years.)

OK, I promise it will get a lot less technical from here, with more pretty pictures!

The first field day, we (in teams of about 8) surveyed a “reference reach” that exhibited stable conditions for the type of stream we would be investigating later (a C4 stream type; if you would care to learn more about stream classification, please post your name and address in the comments section and I will flood your inbox with fascinating literature). This reach was in a forest about 1.5 from our accommodations. Of course, the field day had to be cold and rainy since I didn’t bring any waders, intending to “wet wade” the whole trip. It was pretty stinking cold walking waste-deep in the stream for the first couple hours, but once we got surveying and walking around a little, it warmed up. I was better off than the guy wearing sandals and swim trunks. Here are a couple snapshots of our reach.

Look at that beautiful bankfull bench on the right!
We then worked hours and hours and hours consolidating and analyzing data, filling out forms, and preparing a presentation (which happened after every field day). Besides a slight mishap with the water surface on the profile, the presentation and all went well.

On field day two, we went to a sight 2 hours away. It was a sight under special attention from the EPA for clean-up. An old mine slurry pond had failed and sent tons of metal-laden sediment throughout the valley below and really jacked up the stream there. So the prior year, the class had set up all kinds of monitoring apparatus like bank pins and scour chains. We were going back through and measuring everything they did exactly the same way they did it to see how things changed.

Yes, that is my fat finger.

Look at that tiny culvert. No wonder the stream has issues.
OK. Bankpins are pieces of rebar (the stuff you see sticking out of concrete sometimes) that are driven horizontally in the bank until the end is flush with the bank. When you come back to measure it, you can see and measure how far the bank has eroded and get an idea of erosion rates based on the time interval between visits.

Example of an actual bank pin on one of my projects.

The re-sruvey of the bank to measure erosion

Scour chains are chains that are driven into the bed of the stream vertically, ending flush at the channel bed. Same type of principle where you come back later and see how much chain is exposed/buried to know if the channel is aggrading or degrading.

 This shows how the process works

The chains are installed so that the last link is at the surface

You can see the chain at the bottom

Despite being screwed by crappy work from the previous class, our presentation was a much heralded success of which we were proud. At this stage, we learned (I reviewed) a sediment transport model built into my company’s RIVERMorph software. It basically takes a cross section (reference, impaired or designed) and routes bedload and suspended sediment data through the cross-section and tells you whether that cross section has the hydraulic properties to adequately pass the amount of sediment that is coming at it from upstream. If your channel doesn’t have enough capacity, then sediment will drop out and your stream will aggrade and then vice versa. It’s a pretty nifty tool that can be applied to almost any stream, even if you don’t have sediment data readily available.

Anyway… On the third field day, we went to a farm where the farmer wants to fix his crappy (literal) stream. It had a lot of “hoof shear” from his cattle. On this day, we installed our own bank pins and scour chains and surveyed it all so that the class next year could do the same thing we did on field day 2.

This is Dave Rosgen teaching us how to use a bedload sampler

These are two of my teammates installing bank pins.

This is part of our reach.  You can see two bank pins on that vertical bank on the left

Here we are collecting and analyzing a bar sample.  Determining the gradation of material being moved through the stream.
On Saturday night, they took the class to a little bar and restaurant up the road (up the road = 45 minutes in MT) called Trixi’s where we were able to let our hair down a little, relax and enjoy some incredible prime rib. Mmmm….

You know it's going to be good when a border collie meets you at the door.  He had free reign inside too.

This was the view from the front door of Trixi's

On Sunday, we had a day off. I decided to go up to Glacier National Park for the day with a few other people, so we headed out early and drove the 4.5 hr or so to get there. On the way we saw some of the most beautiful country…

Flathead Lake


Look how clear and blue it is!?!

Random Barn...  Because I am random

The following are a selection of the photos I took in the park, mostly along Going-to-the-Sun Road.

You can't tell by my face, but I am ecstatic...

This is Lake McDonald... beautiful..

Look how clear the water is!!!!!

This is the McDonald River...  oooo...   aahhhhh


Again...  so clear!

No creeks are this clear in the East, and especially not rivers.

This is what a riffle looks like from under water...  oooooo..... aaaahhhhh...

That place was gorgeous. Breathtaking. I wanted to hike a couple small trails while were in the park, but a random rain/hail storm popped up when we reached Logan’s Pass at the Continental Divide, which discouraged my weak-stomached fellow travelers. I would love to take Lindsy back there and spend some more time in the park…

We finished up at noon the last day and I headed back to Missoula and had lunch with a local DEQ guy who attended the class (a fellow baseball fanatic). After that, I decided to get some hiking in before my flight left that evening. I went to the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area within the Lolo National Forest near Missoula, MT.

I hiked Crazee Canyon Road to the top of Mt. Sentinel (about 3.5 mi straight up one way) which overlooks the town of Missoula.

That is Mt. Sentinel in the background with the Clark Fork River in the foreground.

Here is the view of Missoula from the top...
Here are some photos I took along the way…

A tree that survived a fire

If you look closely above the island, you can see people floating down the river in tubes...

When I got back to the car, I bathed in leftover bottled water, changed clothes and splashed some cologne on. Then I grabbed some dinner and headed to the airport.

The trip was amazing and a lot of fun. I wished KCT and Lindsy could have been there with me. We will definitely have to go back. I recommend Montana to anyone who loves being outdoors and seeing natural beauty!

Hopefully you have enjoyed your educational experience. This was better than a PBS special, huh? You thought this was the Discovery channel for a second, didn’t you? Nay, it is merely my simple life as a blessed child of God.

In parting… I will leave you with a few photos of the Blackfoot River. (yes, the same one from A River Runs Through It. Yes, that is where the title of my blog came from. A great movie!!)

Tell me those don’t make your day brighter!!!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Well, after an exhaustive study and review of extensive data, I would like to report that Late Night Cheeseburger Doritos do actually taste like a cheeseburger. (At least to me anyway). If you close your eyes while eating one of these chips, you might forget it is merely one chip and think you are biting into a cheeseburger that has Doritos as a condiment. While mixing two of my favorite food items into a space-saving, budget friendly delicious little pseudo-triangle seems like a great idea, I find myself desiring, rather, to have the two items separately. In my humble opinion, the two tastes get slightly muttled, thus reducing the full satisfaction of two of the best tastes in the world. Now, having said that, I am one of those people who generally does not mix their foods. More often than not, I will even finish one item before moving on to the next; especially when dealing with cheeseburgers. So, there may be a slight bias in my reporting of these results. They are of satisfactory taste to me (translation: I could eat a whole bag in ten minutes); however, I feel the same about most food items that come in a bag.

Now that I have that off my chest, I need to rewind and pick up my life where I left in the summer, if I can remember back that far. The annual entire family vacation occurred the week before Independence Day this year. We went back to Edisto Beach to stay in a mac-daddy house that supplied ample room for all families, including separate accommodations for each couple, as well as a bedroom where all 4 girls slept in their own tiny individual beds. That made bedtime routine interesting a couple nights, but it was kind of funny and cute to see them all lined up in their beds like the brady bunch or something and I think it was a great experience for them.

The weather was gorgeous for the most part. The last few days it got windy and made things interesting. Everybody got a nice exfoliation on the beach from the sand-blasting we took. It made some nice waves though! While we were violently pounded and I almost lost my shorts a few times, it was great fun. Several waves made it past the fortifications that the little girls had constructed and managed to knock the littles ones over and drench several unsuspecting sunbathers. Although funny eventually, it shortened our beach time.

Once again, it was a fabuloso week with the fam and we had a blast. We found out about the pregnancy on the way down to the beach. The great news sprung forth from a Dollar General bathroom. While incredible news, it greatly limited Lindsy’s ability to let loose at the beach.

This blog doesn't even come close to doing justice to the week, but I could share a million pictures and stories... so.. sorry. I'll leave you with this...