What are report card indicators?
This report card is made up of indicators, or key aspects, of socio-environmental health that, when analyzed and assessed, provide insight into the condition of the Basin. Indicators were chosen based on available Basinwide data, as well as Basin values and threats. Over the course of report card development, more than 25 potential indicators were explored and considered. The final eight indicators outlined below had appropriate data availability across multiple report card reporting regions and were able to be assessed against a threshold. In future iterations, it is a goal to develop additional indicators to gather a clearer picture of Basin condition.
The 2021 Rogue River Basin Report Card includes several of these indicators are within three categories: Water Quality, Salmon & Steelhead, and Communities. The descriptions below shed light on how each indicator provides insight into Basin and community health.
Water Quality Indicators
The Rogue Basin supports internationally-valued salmon and trout populations. These fish require water temperatures between 8 - 15OC for optimal survival and reproduction. As temperatures rise, they are more susceptible to parasites and disease and spawning success declines.
Streams naturally become more turbid during heavy rains as overland flows carry sediment into the water. However, excessive turbidity negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems, reduces a water body's suitability as a drinking water source, and degrades the aesthetic beauty of our streams, rivers, and lakes. Degraded and eroded stream banks and human activities such as logging, poorly designed road-stream crossings, polluted stormwater runoff, and poor agricultural practices can all potentially increase turbidity beyond the natural variation of a stream.
While not all algal blooms are harmful the occurrence of HABs is an indicator of an aquatic ecosystem out of balance. HABs occur during conditions of high temperatures, low stream flows, and high nutrient loads. Diversions of flow, degraded stream side vegetation, and nutrient inputs from discharges and overland flow contribute to the occurrence of HABS. Cyanotoxins are indicative of an impaired aquatic ecosystem. They can degrade the quality of municipal drinking water supplies and are detrimental to the recreational use of the water bodies.
There are many strains of E. coli and they occur naturally in lakes and streams. However, some forms of this bacteria can cause illness (which can be severe). High levels of E. coli in water is a strong indication of contamination from sewage (such as leaking septic systems) or animal waste. “Contact recreation,” such as wading or swimming, is strongly discouraged in water bodies with E. coli levels that exceed Oregon Department of Enivronmental Quality (ODEQ) standards.
Salmon & Steelhead Indicators
Adult salmon and steelhead (among several other fishes) return to the Rogue River each year to make their spawning run. Large, adult fish swim, in some cases, over 150 miles from the mouth of the river to spawning areas in streams like Shasta Costa Creek, East Fork Illinois River, Williams Creek, Jumpoff Joe Creek, Kane Creek, Wagner Creek, Lake Creek, and Bitter Lick Creek. All of the salmon, and many of the steelhead, die after they spawn. These dead fish provide food for numerous species of wildlife from aquatic insects to small fish to mink to bears. As the carcasses decay, nutrients leach into the water and the soils along streambanks where they are taken up by streamside shrubs and trees. Dwindling numbers of adult anadromous fishes negatively impact the food web, harming wildlife and streamside plants.
Aside from their importance to the ecology of the Rogue and its tributaries, salmon and steelhead populations are important to the local economy. People from all over the country (and world) come to the Rogue River to fish for spring Chinook and summer steelhead every year.
This indicator is a measure of the Air Quality Index (AQI) that converts ambient air pollutant concentrations into categories of health concern. Air quality fluctuations are often seasonal. Fire season (from June-October) can cause spikes in AQI levels and have negative impacts on air quality.
This indicator is a measure of the percentage of households in the Basin spending less than 30% of their income on housing. While affordable housing is also a national issue, it is also a local issue in the Rogue Basin as well, especially in the aftermath of the Almeda Fire and other Bear Creek fires that hit the urban center of the Basin the hardest, destroying hundreds of homes, many of which where middle to low-income families. Measuring affordable housing provides insight into community health.
Potential Future Indicators
Riparian Bird Health
Klamath Bird Observatory developed a riparian bird health indicator by collecting data in the Bear Creek watershed. We hope to expand this effort for a larger area of the Basin in future report cards.
Rural Capacity Index
Headwaters Economics created a new Rural Capacity Index to help identify communities with limited capacity. These data are avaible for Rogue Basin counties and could be used to develop an indicator.
We explored this as an indicator, but were unable to come to a consensus on thresholds for grading and evidence of change over time. More exploration will continue for future report cards.