Phillip Elden on Streams and Rivers

Phillip EldenThroughout Oregon, we enjoy an abundance of rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. But how much do we really know about these ever-connected aquatic veins, which meander throughout much of the West Coast. Here, Phillip Elden answers a few common questions on rivers.

Q: What do all rivers and streams have in common?

Phillip Elden: While no two rivers look exactly alike, they are all similar in that they begin high. The high point of a running body of water can be found in an elevated area such as a mountain or hill. Rivers often begin as snowmelt, or are initiated by a natural spring. Small streams almost always find their way to one another to become larger rivers and rivers always find their way to a larger body of water, such as a lake or ocean.

Q: How do rivers change the lay of the land?

Phillip Elden: Through a process called erosion, rivers cut into the earth and the underlying rock. Over the years, flowing water continues to remove pieces of rock, which become river rock. It can take hundreds to thousands of years, but rivers are very capable of carving a new path, and the soil they carry can even create new landmasses.

Q: What is a watershed?

Phillip Elden: A watershed is simply a series of interconnected streams and rivers. If you were to look at a watershed space it would almost look like a tree with many branches. At the end of a watershed is a River Delta, which is where the river empties into a larger body. Deltas are extremely nutrient dense and the surrounding land is considered prime for farming.

Q: How many rivers and streams are there in the United States?

Phillip Elden: It’s really difficult to calculate an exact number, however, we do know that rivers only make up about 2/10 of a percent of the Earth’s freshwater. Even still, they’re extremely important, especially to areas that don’t have access to municipal water. Not only do rivers supply drinking water, they also serve as power sources and spread nutrients everywhere they flow.