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News Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Release: June 17, 2009
Chris Magirl

John Clemens

Rolling Down The River: Is It “Navigable?”

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Scientists have developed a new technique to help the State of Washington determine the potential for rivers across the state to be “navigable,” the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced today.

According to its constitution, the State owns the bed and shore of any navigable waterway. Because the constitution doesn’t say specifically what “navigable” means, the state land manager, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), needs an objective measurement of whether river or stream is potentially navigable.

In cooperation with the DNR, scientists from the USGS Washington Water Science Center developed a new technique that predicts the depth and width of any stream or river channel, based on its average annual streamflow. The predicted physical characteristics are mapped to show the navigability potential of rivers across the state.

“Although ultimately the courts determine navigability, maps produced by our technique show which rivers in the state are potentially navigable,” said Chris Magirl, USGS hydrologist and lead author of the report on the technique.

The report, "Navigability Potential of Washington Rivers and Streams Determined with Hydraulic Geometry and a Geographic Information System," by Christopher S. Magirl and Theresa D. Olsen, is published as U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5122. It is available on the Web at .

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