USGS Washington Water Science Center
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9722-DGZ - Estimating Physical River-Channel Features for Navigable Streams in Washington - Completed FY2009
Problem - The Washington State Constitution (Article XVII, Section 1) asserts “ownership to the beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state up to and including the line of ordinary high tide, in waters where the tide ebbs and flows, and up to and including the line of ordinary high water with the banks of all navigable rivers and lakes.” In light of this article of the constitution, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is interested in a statewide method to begin the determination of whether streams are navigable or not. Currently, DNR has a provisional map of navigable waters based on current and historical documentation on whether navigation has been or not been possible. DNR has requested assistance from the USGS in developing a methodology to incorporate physical channel characteristics in a preliminary, statewide map of navigability.
Objectives - The objectives of this study are (1) to develop a method to estimate the physical channel characteristics related to navigability as defined by DNR from available statewide data; and (2) to apply the method to a statewide study to create a navigability map.
Relevance and Benefits - An important part of the USGS mission is to provide scientific information to manage the water resources of the Nation, and to enhance and protect our quality of life. The navigability issue is important because it helps establish State ownership of the "bed and shore" of rivers. Washington State law does not explicitly define what criteria should be used to determine whether a river reach is navigable or not. DNR has looked to other states for quantitative methods for determining navigability of river reaches and has not found any except for some general guidance for Alaska’s rivers. If the proposed methodology proves valid, it may become a model for other states in the Nation.