OEC Celebrates Scientists: Allison Aldous, Freshwater Scientist

“People underestimate how dependent we are on healthy rivers and watersheds. Wetlands help to store and clean water. Rivers connected to their floodplains buffer downstream communities from flooding. Healthy rivers provide recreation opportunities and fishing for sport and food. Oregonians are very connected to rivers across the state. Science can help clarify the relationship we have with water.”

—Allison Aldous, PhD, Senior Freshwater Scientist

The Nature Conservancy

Allison Aldous is a senior freshwater scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Oregon. For the past 10 years, she has been working to fill the gap in our understanding of groundwater dependent ecosystems and develop tools to help us balance how much water we consume for people, agriculture and industry.

Our groundwater system feeds fresh, cold water into natural springs, wetlands and rivers where many plants and wildlife depend on it to survive. Whether it’s supporting key life cycle stages for Bull Trout and Spotted Frogs or sustaining perennial native plants through a long, hot summer, water that comes from the ground is a critical lifeline for ecosystems and a finite resource that has to be managed wisely.

Allison and her team have developed an atlas of Oregon’s groundwater dependent habitats and species, showing how dependent each is on groundwater to survive and the main sources of man-made stress on these environments. Using their methodology for evaluating how much groundwater is available and needed for ecosystem health, Allison can help communities throughout Oregon balance their out-of-ground uses with in-ecosystem groundwater needs to ensure we’re sustainably managing this important resource for all of our needs now and into the future.


What environmental issues concern you the most for Oregon?

Water use is probably my biggest concern. We live in a state generally thought of as abundant when it comes to water resources. I still believe that’s true, but the perception that we have nothing to worry about is leading us to inaction. In many basins across the state, we have fully allocated all of the water, which leaves many rivers and wetlands perilously dry during the long hot summers. For that reason, many of our wetlands and springs are stressed because we are not using water as efficiently or wisely as we should.

Second is climate change: knowing what we know about our future climate system, we need to be careful about how we use our natural resources. We’ve always treated our water supply as a static thing, but it is not static. Our natural resources are vulnerable to the changes in our climate, and we are not very prepared to respond to those changes. It’s possible to get there, but we need a truly concerted effort.

With so many demands on our water supply and few protections for rivers and wetlands, my greatest fear is that it’s going to be the rivers and wetlands that suffer.

Why is science important?

Science can help us understand how much we rely on healthy ecosystems. People underestimate how dependent we are on healthy rivers and watersheds. Science can help clarify the relationship we have with water.

Science has a lot to offer us in terms of options for making important decisions. As a scientist, I have a lot of opportunity to be creative, from modernizing irrigation to better understanding what the ecological needs are for water so that we can balance all of its uses. Science offers us really powerful technologies and creative opportunities that we’re not taking advantage of fully. We just have to make the decision to start acting on more of those opportunities.

How does your work move us toward a healthier, more resilient Oregon?

We recognize that people need to have access to a clean and abundant supply of water, both for our health and our economy. At The Nature Conservancy, we try to provide both sides of that picture. Our work shows how healthy ecosystems are so important to our well being – from clean water and recreation to controlling and buffering our water supply, and to the pure beauty of our rivers and wetlands. We look at that whole picture. The choice is not nature or people. People do best in a well functioning, whole system.

More: Celebrating Oregon Scientists

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