Thursday, July 14, 2016

Measuring Rivers

I won’t deny I have problems with heights, looking down gives me nausea, but one thing I love is being in a cablecar on a cableway strung across a river, the wider the better, high above the flowing water, the faster the flow the better. I loved streamggaging for the USGS, especially the big rivers with the high cableway, to spend and hour or more going across and measuring the width, depth and velocity to compute a discharge (flow), and sometimes take a moment in the middle to just sit and feel the quiet place. 
I was only worried once during my career, when measuring Blue Creek above Hills Creek Resevoir, Oregon during a flood when I could hear boulders the size of cars (seen in followup measurements) rolling along the bed, moved by the the high velocity, realizing even with a floatation jacket (safety requirement) I wouldn’t survive if I fell in the river. The cableway and towers were well above the river, but it occurred to me when I took that moment to watch and listen to the loud sounds of those boulders I couldn’t see due to the high sediment flow but had a reality check on the power of rivers, no matter how seemingly small.
And of all the hundreds of wading measurements I, some up to the top of my chest waders, I never lost my footing or fell in the creeks or rivers. But there was a time on Gray Creek in the Middle Fork of the Willametter River basin, I had the scare every streamgager has at least once, find yourself in the middle of the creek or river realizing you can move forward across it or go back the bank you started .You were stuck there and this time the during the high flow the rocks on the bed were moving under and around me and started to move me downstream while the flow pushed against the upstream side of my body nudging me down stream too.
After a few minutes I realized I had no choice but to go forward with two possibilities, one I’d lose it and become part fhe flow to extracate myself out safely, or two, I’d be ok and get across, and then come back to make the measurement. The latter prevailed as I realized I was in the deepest and swiftest part of it and still standing, meaning I could finish it, which I did, and without getting wet except for the rain.
It’s the conundrums each of us have and live with.

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