You are here

Development of the science of riparian ecology in the semi-arid western United States [Chapter 1]

Posted date: November 27, 2018
Publication Year: 
2018
Authors: Patten, Duncan T.; Carothers, Steven W.; Johnson, R. Roy; Hamre, Robert H.
Publication Series: 
General Technical Report (GTR)
Source: In: Johnson, R. Roy; Carothers, Steven W.; Finch, Deborah M.; Kingsley, Kenneth J.; Stanley, John T., tech. eds. 2018. Riparian research and management: Past, present, future: Volume 1. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-377. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 1-24. doi: http://doi.org/10.2737/RMRS-GTR-377-CHAP1.
Note: This article is part of a larger document.

Abstract

The science of riparian ecology in the West developed over several decades, especially in the Southwest and California, as the importance of this ecosystem, its components, productivity, functions, and relationship to system hydrology became better understood. While it seems incredible today, it was only 50 years ago that streamside vegetation in the arid Southwest and portions of California were the subject of much concern as most flood control and water agencies wanted the permanent removal of riparian habitat. The early research within riparian habitats in the 1950s and 1960s focused primarily on methods of removal and reasons for its destruction (Gatewood et al. 1950; Fox 1977; Horton et al. 1964; Robinson 1952). Most studies of western rivers in the 1960s addressed the “fact” that riparian vegetation, referred to mostly as phreatophytes (i.e., plants tapping groundwater), was utilizing a large portion of the shallow groundwater moving through watersheds. At that time, most water managers believed that this water could be better allocated to human activities and needs, primarily agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses. In the semi-arid West, water lost to evapotranspiration by watersheds and phreatophytic plants was considered to be water unavailable for human use, and thus “wasted.” Consequently, several studies beginning in the early 1950s were designed to demonstrate water consumption by watersheds (Gottfried et al. 1999) as well as riparian/phreatophytic plant communities with little or no concern or focus for other values such as the unique riparian habitat (Decker et al. 1962; Robinson 1952). In fact, at the time, a U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist and leading water expert wrote: “Phreatophyte vegetation seriously affects water supplies in arid and semi-arid regions. Knowledge of the extent and nature of the vegetation cover is needed as a basis for planning treatments of the vegetation and estimating the potential water savings and other effects” (Horton et al. 1964: 34).

Citation

Patten, Duncan T.; Carothers, Steven W.; Johnson, R. Roy; Hamre, Robert H. 2018. Development of the science of riparian ecology in the semi-arid western United States [Chapter 1]. In: Johnson, R. Roy; Carothers, Steven W.; Finch, Deborah M.; Kingsley, Kenneth J.; Stanley, John T., tech. eds. 2018. Riparian research and management: Past, present, future: Volume 1. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-377. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 1-24. doi: http://doi.org/10.2737/RMRS-GTR-377-CHAP1.