Faculty & Students
Utah State University is Carnegie Research I University. Within the institution are scores of faculty-led programs that partly focus on research that informs federal and state agencies that manage the Colorado River and that informs non-government organizations about critical issues facing the Colorado River. For some Utah State faculty, the Colorado River is one of many geographic foci; for other faculty, the Colorado River is their life passion.
Meet Luke Gommermann
Degree Seeking: PhD - Watershed Science
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jack Schmidt
Research Area: Big river monitoring and geomorphologic modeling
Luke Gommermann is a first responder, of sorts. For the past several years he has kept careful tabs on vital signs in national parks as part of the Northern Colorado Plateau Network (NCPN). He counted plants, tested soils, probed for invasive species, and (most recently) monitored the health of big rivers. NCPN is one of 32 networks composing the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) Division. By analyzing and reporting their findings, NCPN helps park managers better understand the status and trends of ecosystems within their boundaries and develop strategies for future restoration or mitigation.
Luke spent his childhood as an abnormally youthful snowbird, bouncing with his family between a tiny town in Wisconsin in the summer and fall to a condo in metro Florida to enjoy the balmy winter and spring. It was an unusual way to grow up – his high school in Florida, he said, had a student body greater than the population of his entire Wisconsin hometown. But the contrast was something he valued – it gave him perspective highlighting geography’s role in shaping our world, including how different communities meet water needs and how local components interact to create ecosystems. Luke settled down long enough to earn two degrees from the University of Florida, a BS in Geological Sciences and an MS in Soil and Water Science. After graduation, he resumed a snowbird lifestyle, moving seasonally through positions with the National Park Service. Luke and his wife, Amy, spent five years working winters as park rangers in the surreal swamps of Big Cypress National Preserve, transitioning each summer to positions as park scientists in the American Southwest. They were both permanently hired by NCPN in 2017.
The designers of the NCPN program were thinking long-term when they initiated the program in 1998. The I&M system is designed to last 80 years or more – longevity that would allow sweeping perspective for managers to better understand and support adapting ecosystems in a quickly changing world. Since the program is still in relative infancy, now is the time to examine whether we’ve chosen the right sites and are measuring the right variables to get the best information over time, Luke said. As part of his research with CCRS, Luke will compare NPS data sets with research done independently. It’s an opportunity to fine-tune the effectiveness of the current approach.
For instance, most rivers on the Colorado Plateau have controlled flows. Adding dams to a river system converts a dynamic system into something more static. Resulting changes can include how much sediment is deposited or eroded, the shape of the river, and the structure and composition of local plant communities. The ability to monitor these factors over time helps managers to understand this “new normal,” said Luke. NCPN’s big rivers monitoring focuses on four national parks and their associated rivers: the Gunnison River in Curecanti National Recreation Area and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the Green and Yampa Rivers in Dinosaur National Monument, and the Green and Colorado Rivers in Canyonlands National Park. NCPN conducts annual geomorphology and vegetation surveys and records hourly water levels at sites along these rivers. With enough data, Luke and fellow researchers at NCPN will be able help park managers anticipate how these river ecosystems will respond to future challenges from increases in water demand and climate change.
Luke at CCRS
Monitoring works best when you take time to step back and understand the whole picture, said Luke. The Center for Colorado River studies creates space for this to happen. Developing a strong academic background and research skills based specifically on western waterways is an important aspect of building this perspective.
“My work at the Center for Colorado River Studies allows me to take what I am seeing in the field, and understand it at a critical level,” he said. Ultimately, the goal is to provide park managers with information that is accurate, insightful and useful. When they have the best information, they can make the best decisions for these special places that belong to all Americans, he said.
More Info: Big-River Monitoring on the Colorado Plateau
Jack Schmidt • Director
Leader of the Future of the Colorado River Project and Janet Quinney Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies. Professor of Watershed Sciences and former Chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (2011-2014). Winner of the National Park Service Director’s Award for Natural Resource Research for his career of applied science study of the large regulated rivers of the National Park system. Co-awardee of the Department of the Interior Partners in Conservation Award (2013).
Associate Professor of Watershed Sciences and co-leader of The Fluvial Habitats Center at Utah State. Wheaton is a nationally recognized expert in application of geomorphology to stream restoration, including the introduction of beavers to accelerate restoration processes. He has developed regional models useful to assess the likely success of beaver introductions and the condition of riparian ecosystems in Utah’s portion of the Colorado River basin and elsewhere.
Dr. Endter-Wada is a Professor of Natural Resource Policy and Social Science and Director of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Graduate Certificate Program at USU. Her research focuses on conceptualizing and analyzing linkages between humans and biophysical aspects of ecosystems. During her professional career, Dr. Endter-Wada has been involved in many interdisciplinary academic programs and research projects and served at state and federal levels in policy-related appointments.
Pederson's research and teaching interests are in process geomorphology and landscape evolution. He is specifically interested in using fieldwork, geochronology, and GIS to investigate landscape responses to tectonics and climate change the landscape evolution of the Colorado Plateau.
Janecke's research includes Extensional tectonics, structural geology, basin analysis of half and full graben, Lake Bonneville, extensional folding processes, regional geology, paleogeography, Salton Trough and development of oblique-divergent margins, Basin and Range province, interactions of Sevier fold-and-thrust belt and foreland structures.
Budy is involved with the development of a Science Based Restoration and Management Plan for the San Rafael River, UT: Integrating Data on Fish Distributions and Habitat Needs with Historical Analyses of Channel Change, evaluating cutthroat trout performance and identifying limiting factors for the native fish community of Pyramid Lake, and investigating Predator Prey Interactions in Scofield Reservoir, UT.
Tarboton focuses on advancing the capability for hydrologic prediction by developing models that take advantage of new information and process understanding enabled by new technology. This includes the use of hydrologic and geographic information systems and digital elevation models that take advantage of spatially distributed information for hydrologic prediction. He has developed and supports open source software packages implementing many of the research capabilities developed.
Rosenberg's work uses systems analysis -- simulation and optimization modeling and hydroinformatics -- to improve the planning, design, and operation of water systems. His work spans spatial scales from individual users (such as households) to transboundary river basins and integrates hydrological, engineering, economic, environmental, and institutional system aspects and uncertainties to mathematically model and inform water management.
Wilcock's research focuses on sediment transport processes and their role in the restoration and management of rivers and their watersheds. His current projects include defining instream flows, and developing a reduced complexity model to explore options to reduce sediment loading. He teaches courses on sediment transport mechanics and a one-week summer short course Sediment Transport in Stream Channel Assessment and Design.
Associate Professor of Watershed Sciences. Null's expertise is in evaluation of scenarios for re-operations of reservoirs, including assessment of their effects on downstream thermal conditions, their role in ensuring water supply security, and their role in affecting the quality of fish habitat. Some of her work occurs in Utah’s Great Basin rivers whose flow is supplemented by Colorado River trans-basin diversions.
Bethany Neilson's current research projects focus on understanding the role of groundwater/surface water exchanges on instream temperatures and carbon fluxes in areas of continuous permafrost, on longitudinal solute trends in a karst mountainous watershed, on instream temperature and habitat in areas influenced by beaver dam complexes, and on nutrient transport in regulated river reaches.
Lael is Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Colorado River Studies. In addition to a passion for science and communication, she has a love for ecology and big-picture landscapes that make rivers and river research an especially attractive field. She has worked for the Center since its inception maintaining the website, facilitating communication and assisting in the organization of off-site workshops on various topics.
Post Doctoral Fellow, Utah Water Research Laboratory. Jian’s research aims to develop alternative management paradigms that not only meet water supply objectives but also increase the potential for recovery of endangered species and for river ecosystem rehabilitation. His research involves identifying critical uncertainties in the Colorado River system, exploring available methodologies and tools to deal with deep uncertainty and designing the combined long-term and short-term policies that allow the system to be adaptive to future changes.
Post-Doctoratal Fellow in Fish Ecology. Lindsay works on predicting fish responses to climate change and water supply in the Colorado River Basin. She is focusing on synthesizing knowledge of fish population responses to temperature, hydrology, sediment, non-native species, and other drivers to predict how different water storage management scenarios may influence fish populations across the basin. Her goal is to combine literature review, expert opinion, and existing data to inform water managers of ecosystem responses to various water allocation outcomes.
PhD. Watershed Sciences. Luke's research is about assessing the effectiveness of the Northern Colorado Plateau Network's monitoring protocols ... protocols that aim to detect channel simplification processes along river corridors in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument. Additionally, Luke seeks to better understand the relationships between regulated river flows on the dynamics between downstream channel geomorphology and vegetation populations.
PhD. Watershed Sciences. Christy's research aims to relate flux-based fine sediment budgets to changes in the channel and floodplain form on the Middle Green River in Colorado and Utah. Using surrogate techniques to measure influx and efflux of sediment, Christy seeks to establish morphological meaning to flux-based sediment budgets by identifying mechanisms, whether large or small, which underlie channel responses to upstream changes in sediment flux induced by water resource infrastructure.
PhD. Ecology. Brian is studying the effectiveness of conservation actions for imperiled native fishes in Colorado River tributaries in Grand Canyon. He is leading the implementation of invasive fish suppression and humpback chub (Gila cypha) translocations to aid in the recovery of native fish communities. His research focus is understanding physical (hydrologic, thermal) and biological drivers of demographic vital rates (i.e., growth, survival, reproduction, recruitment) of native and invasive fishes through open- and closed-population mark-recapture and population viability modeling.
PhD. Civil & Environmental Engineering. Bryce researches the effects of ongoing climate change and increasing water demand on the temperature regimes of the Colorado River in Grand Canyon and the Green River in the upper basin. His work focuses on the use of process-based hydrologic models that account for individual heat fluxes that drive river warming or cooling. The goal of his research is to assess and identify management strategies for the Colorado River Basin that can meet water demand and environmental goals under future climate change scenarios.
PhD. Civil & Enviornmental Engineering. Homa's research aims to define, develop and quantify the hydrologic inputs used in the Colorado River Simulation System and examine risks for low and high streamflow conditions. Her research explores ways to quantify and refine connections between management/ policy/decision variables that involve land use, withdrawals and consumptive use, and inflows across the Colorado River Basin so that consequences can be propagated to water supply and ecological endpoints that stakeholders addressing water management and policy questions are interested in.
Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy
The Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy announces a call for proposals for our Babbitt Dissertation Fellowship. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy established the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy in 2017. Initially, the Babbitt Center will focus on the Colorado River Basin, beginning in Arizona and Colorado and expanding throughout the Basin. The Babbitt Center takes a four-pronged approach to securing a better water future: 1) research; 2) innovation; 3) build and strengthen partnerships; and 4) education. Read more.
We invite applications from doctoral students who are writing dissertations in fields that address the Babbitt Center’s primary interest areas in improving the integration of land use and water management and policy. This fellowship provides an important link between Lincoln Institute’s education mission and its research objective by supporting scholars early in their careers.
What: Babbitt Dissertation Fellowship
Who: Ph.D. students
Number of Fellowships to be awarded: 1
Application Process: Application guidelines are attached. Application documents are to be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Application Deadline: December 3, 2018
Notification: Via email approximately 2 months after the quarterly application deadline
Questions? Refer to the FAQ on the last page of the Application Guidelines or contact email@example.com.
Doctoral Research and Fellowship Opportunity
Department of Watershed Sciences • Quinney College of Natural Resources • Utah State University
Geomorphic Implications of Fine-Sediment Mass Imbalance of the Middle Green River in Utah
We seek an energetic and innovative doctoral student to investigate how and why the middle Green River has simplified and narrowed during the past century and to investigate linkages between these changes and characteristics of the flow regime and sediment supply that have changed due to upstream dams, diversions, and land use changes.
Fine-sediment transport is continuously measured at gaging stations throughout the Colorado River basin by the USGS Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (http://www.gcmrc.gov/discharge_qw_sediment/). These data are used to calculate sediment budgets for sand and for silt-and-clay for different segments of the river system, including the middle Green River in Dinosaur National Monument and the Uinta Basin. The continuous record of fine-sediment transport, and a distributed network of historical channel measurements, provides an unusual research opportunity to understand how fine sediment mass imbalance is accommodated by geomorphic changes of the channel and floodplain as it stores or evacuates fine sediment. These geomorphic changes affect native fish aquatic habitat.
This research program will be jointly supervised by John Schmidt
Department of Watershed Sciences • Quinney College of Natural Resources • Utah State University
Colorado River Doctoral Scholar
The Department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources announces the Colorado River Doctoral Scholar program. This scholarship provides a stipend and covers tuition and fees for a PhD student whose focus is the application of science to the management of the Colorado River. The scholarship also provides a grant of $5,000 to support initiation of the Scholar’s PhD research. Colorado River Doctoral Scholars are expected to seek supplemental support for their research endeavors. The Colorado River Doctoral Scholarship is awarded for a 4-year period.
The Colorado River Doctoral Scholar program is part of the Quinney College of Natural Resources’ Center for Colorado River Studies, a home for innovative research, teaching, and outreach that informs management of the Colorado River and other major rivers of the American Southwest. The Colorado River Doctoral Scholar program supports applied research that is applicable to current and emerging management problems of the Colorado River, including the in-stream effects of changing runoff and sediment supply, reservoir operations, changes in fluvial geomorphology and habitat, non-native species introductions and expansion, and river rehabilitation/restoration. We seek innovative approaches that link emerging, multidisciplinary science to management challenges.
Preference will be given to prospective students with an outstanding academic record and an interest in contributing to scientifically-based management and policy related to the Colorado River and/or its watershed. Applications are encouraged from minorities and members of the Colorado River watershed’s many Native peoples. Students with backgrounds in the earth sciences, geography, aquatic ecology, riparian ecology, and water resources management are encouraged to apply. Applications into the Doctoral Scholar program are reviewed on a rolling basis, and applications are reviewed semi-annually.
Applications will be reviewed on August 1, 2016, for proposed programs of study beginning in spring term of the 2016-2017 academic year; applications are due on February 1, 2017, for programs of study beginning fall term of the 2017-2018 academic year. The number of scholars is subject to availability of funds.
Prospective students should apply to the graduate program at Utah State University (https://www.usu.edu/apply/). Applicants should provide supplemental information that includes (1) a statement of interest in the Colorado River Doctoral Scholar program, (2) a CV, and (3) a proposed focus of research. Supplemental materials, as well as copies of letters of reference and other application materials, should be sent to: Dr. John (Jack) C. Schmidt, Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-5210; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Fortney M.S. 2013
Geomorphic history of the San Rafael River, Utah
Jerome Varriale, Phd 2013
Channel morphology and fine sediment
Rebecca Manners, Phd 2012
Dissertation: Mechanisms of Vegetation Induced Channel Narrowing on an Unregulated Canyon-Bound River
Susannah Erwin, Phd 2011
Dissertation: Development of Sediment Budgets at Multiple Scales: Investigations into the Influence of Sediment Supply on Channel Morphology
David Dean, M.S. 2009
Thesis: A River Transformed: Historic Geomorphic Changes of the Lower Rio Grande in the Big Bend Region of Texas, Chihuahua, and Coahuila (Abstract)
Randy Goetz, 2008
Thesis: A post-project assessment of the Provo River restoration project: Channel design, reconfiguration, and the reestablishment of critical physical processes.
Nicholas Nelson, M.S. 2007
Thesis: Hydrology and geomorphology of the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Jason Alexander, M.S. 2007
Thesis: The timing and magnitude of channel adjustments in the upper Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam in Brown's Park and Lodore Canyon, Colorado: An analysis of the pre- and post-dam river using high resolution dendrogeomorphology and repeat topographic surveys.
Greg Larson, M.S. 2004
Thesis: Tamarisk and fluvial geomorphic form in Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah: Effects of flow regulation and implications for resource management (Abstract).
Dave Gaeuman, Ph.D. 2003
Doctoral Dissertation: Integration of historical geomorphology with existing methods for specifying in-stream flow requirements for habitat and channel maintenance on the lower Duchesne River.
Isaac Larsen, M.S. 2003
Thesis: Mass-movement sediment delivery to the Green River: Linking bedrock geology, precipitation, and hillslope processes in Dinosaur National Monument
Caroline Elliott, M.S. 2002
Thesis: Debris fans and geomorphology of Desolation and Gray canyons, Utah
Hoda Sondossi, M.S. 2001
Thesis: Historical analysis of the geomorphology of sand bars along the Colorado River in upper Marble Canyon, Arizona
Betty Paepke, M.S. 2001
Thesis: Controls on channel organization and morphology in a glaciated basin in the Uinta Mountains, Utah
Melissa Stamp, M.S. 1999
Thesis: Hydrologic and geomorphic effects of dams and water diversions on Lake Fork River and Rock Creek, Uinta mountains, Utah
Jen Martin, M.S. 1999
Thesis: Debris-flow activity in Canyon of Lodore, Colorado: Implications for debris-fan formation and evolution
Brandy Blank, B.S. 1999
Senior Thesis: Use of stereo-photogrammetry to measure sand-bar erosion and deposition on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park.
Lynn Orchard, B.S. 1998
Senior Thesis: Fish habitat availability in Desolation and Gray Canyons (abstract).
Tyler Allred, M.S. 1998
Thesis: Channel narrowing of the Green River near Green River, Utah: History, rates, and processes of narrowing
Paul Grams, M.S. 1997
Thesis: Geomorphology of the Green River in Dinosaur National Monument
Cindy Rakowski, M.S. 1997
Thesis: The geomorphic basis of Colorado Sqawfish nursery habitat in the Green River near Ouray, Utah
Mark Smelser, M.S. 1997
Thesis: Geomorphic adjustibility of streams draining the Uinta Mountains of Utah