Art Bernstein and Zach Urness, authors of “Hiking Southern Oregon,” Discuss the California Drought and High Cascades Aquifer with Water Advocate Sharon Kleyne
During the Western United States’ worst ever drought, while Southern California’s fresh water supply runs dangerously low, Southern Oregon’s water is proving resistant to drought and climate change. Southern Oregon’s rivers, despite the lowest mountain snow pack on record in 2014, remain high and fast even in late summer and early autumn.* That was the observation of journalist-hikers Art Bernstein and Zach Urness, authors of the new book “Hiking Southern Oregon,” during an interview with water advocate Sharon Kleyne.†
The reason for Southern Oregon’s enviable position, according to Bernstein and Urness, is the High Cascades Aquifer that keeps rivers flowing even with meager snow pack and scarce rainfall. The aquifer is named for the High Cascades Mountains, stretching from far northern California to British Columbia. They reach their maximum extent in Southwest Oregon.
Bernstein and Urness were interviewed on the Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio show of October 20, 2014 (Sharon Kleyne Hour archive: http://www.voiceamerica.com/show/2207/the-sharon-kleyne-hour)
The syndicated Sharon Kleyne Hour Power of Water radio show, hosted by water advocate Sharon Kleyne, is heard on VoiceAmerica and Apple iTunes. The show is sponsored by Bio-Logic Aqua Research, a global research and technology center specializing in fresh water, the atmosphere and dehydration. Nature’s Tears® EyeMist® is the Research Center’s signature product for dry eyes. Kleyne is Bio-Logic Aqua’s Founder and Research Director.
Art Bernstein has written 18 books on hiking and natural history in Oregon and northern California, including two books of short stories. Bernstein has an MS in Forestry from the University of Michigan and has lived in Southern Oregon since 1970
Zach Urness, outdoors reporter for the Salem Statesman-Journal, is published statewide and widely known for his articles on hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking and skiing. Urness previously wrote for the Grants Pass, Oregon, Daily Courier.
The High Cascades mountain range, according to Bernstein and Urness, is a string of young volcanoes beginning at California’s Mt. Lassen, running up the middle of Oregon and Washington and ending at British Columbia’s Mt. Garibaldi. Crater Lake, and Mounts Shasta, Hood, Rainier and St. Helens belong to the High Cascades.
The Western Cascades are a much older and more eroded volcanic range slightly to the west of but intermingled with the High Cascades. In southern Oregon, the High Cascades constitute nearly the entire Cascades region with occasional pockets of Western Cascades. Conversely, in northern Oregon and in Washington, the Western Cascades predominate, with occasional dots of High Cascades. The northern dots include Mounts Rainier, St. Helens and Hood. The High Cascades predominate to a lesser extend in Central Oregon and far Northern California.
Young volcanic material, say Bernstein and Urness, is highly porous and able to absorb a tremendous amount of water. The result is the massive High Cascades Aquifer. Because of the Aquifer, Southern Oregon’s rivers maintain their flow year round despite low precipitation and climate change. Thus, Northern California’s Shasta River, rising on Mt. Shasta, had plenty of water in 2014 while the nearby South Fork Sacramento, originating in the mostly granite Klamath Mountains, ended up waterless. The Rogue, Umpqua, Descutes and Santiam Rivers also originate in the High Cascades.
Young volcanic rock, Bernstein and Urness explain, is composed mostly of highly porous ash and soft “vesiculated” lava full of bubbles. Young volcanic areas are also riddled with lava tubes – where flowing molten lava hardened on the outside while lava continued to run on the inside, eventually leaving an empty tube. Young lava rock is also prone to an extreme fissuring
In contrast, the Western Cascades consist mostly of volcanic plugs, core conduits of volcanoes long since eroded away. The lava in volcanic plugs, because it solidified deep underground, is much harder than surface lava.
In California’s non-volcanic Klamath and Sierra Nevada Mountains, the predominant rock is mostly granitic, which water has difficulty penetrating. Thus, there is heavy runoff in California rivers in spring and early summer but they quickly dry up.
An outstanding location to observe the High Cascades Aquifer, say Bernstein and Urness, is the Boundary Spring Trail near Crater Lake National Park’s north boundary. Summer or winter, wet year or dry, the fresh water spring gushes from the rocks and immediately becomes the Rogue River. Thousand Springs, near Crater Lake’s western boundary, is also beautiful and educational.
*Boxall, B, “Amid California’s drought, a bruising battle for cheaper water,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 2014
*Urness, Z, “Feeding the Rogue River,” Grants Pass Daily Courier, July 25, 2009
†Bernstein and Urness, “Hiking Southern Oregon,” Falcon Guides, 2014.