Advancing Deltas II [N42 30.041 W121 57.522]

Welcome to the Williamson River Delta in Southern Oregon.  The image above shows our path in and around this delta, via a GPS track meshed with Google Earth.  The track was made last month (August, 2011) and the landscape looked quite different from what it does here, as current Google imagery predates October of 2007.

[Levee explosion by Jeff Gersh, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy]

At that time the Nature Conservancy and its hired team of explosive engineers placed over 100 tons of explosives into vertical arrays of PVC tubes.  The tubes were strategically placed into sections of the Williamson Delta’s perimeter of constructed levees.  When detonated, the momentary event (recorded on film here) created four, half-mile long breaches in the barrier, inundating about five square miles of ‘reclaimed’ farmland (or land that was wetland prior to the 1940s).

[image by Kenneth Popper, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy]

With the removal of additional levees in 2008, a total of 5,000 acres were returned to an aquatic state, rendering the landscape more like it appears in Bing maps.

[Bing map aerial of the inundated Delta with coordinate locations]

[N42 30.041 W121 57.522]

I arrived here four years after the levees had been breached, coming to see how the re-reclaimed delta was falling back into itself.  The Google aerial (above) shows the point from where I took the photograph (below), while in the midst of a swarm of Klamath midges (a unique field encounter in and of itself).  The photograph provides a sense of scale for one of the largest wetland restoration efforts in the Western United States.  You can just make out the discontinuous string of broken levees in the distance.   The space between here and there was formerly agricultural fields.

Further south, Google Earth shows a disconnected oxbow retooled as an irrigation canal (above),  as seen prior to being reconnected by the Nature Conservancy’s efforts (below, via Bing maps)

[N42 29.173 W121 55.619, observed at full spring inundation (above), where the faint shadow of the oxbow can be seen, and in August when the Upper Klamath Lake recedes (below)]

Here we encounter roads traversing paths that no longer exist, yet dutifully still appear in the most widely disseminated digital maps.  Or fields of hay and alfalfa that are now open water, or else still appear the way they were, depending upon which map one is viewing.  Cogno-temporal fissures; requisite gaps and slippage in the surveying and upkeep of the quicktime of the anthropocene.  Gaps that seem to be more than intellectual folly.  As Marc Augé put it, “Strangely, it is a set of breaks and discontinuities in space that expresses continuity in time”

-Thanks to the Graham Foundation for supporting our field research in the Klamath Basin and to the Nature Conservancy for a tour of the Williamson Delta


  1. Wow. This is a remarkable photo-essay. Love the contrasts between the Google and Bing maps.

  2. namhenderson · ·

    This looks like an awesome research project/psycho-geographic hike. Congrats!

  3. namhenderson · ·

    On the Graham Foundation support. Will the results end in an exhibition or publication?

  4. Thanks RKB and Nam. The end results of the research project have yet to be determined. The Graham grant is assisting with physically doing the research, such as getting out there and having a look around, and providing resources to generate the raw material for something like a publication/exhibition. My hope is that the work will eventually lead there. Thoughts, partially cooked ideas, and tangents such as this one will likely find their way into posts here.

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