Olsson Associates


Airboats and alligators: A day in the life of a fluvial geomorphologist

Monday, August 17, 2015

William Spitz, PG, Water Resources

William Spitz documents the stratigraphy in the excavated bank of the Platte River near Kearney, Nebraska, for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program.Fluvial geomorphologist” is not a job title that inspires much excitement in the masses.

But understanding what a fluvial geomorphologist actually does can pique some interest.

Olsson’s fluvial geomorphologists, simply put, are experts who understand how the landscape is affected by flowing water. But, in practice, our work can take us from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the dry washes of the desert. Doing my work in these various locations has led to some exciting adventures for me. I’ve nearly collided my work boat with a sea lion; had a 7-foot alligator stand up on its hind legs and hiss at me and my crew; and have carefully shared the same space with elk, wild burrows, coyotes, poisonous snakes, bears, and mountain lions.

Olsson’s fluvial geomorphology services can be invaluable when dealing with anything that is impacted by water flow, such as floodplains, flood control levees, or urban drainages. Other structures that can be impacted include railroads, highways, bridges, oil and gas production sites, urban development areas, and urban and commercial infrastructure.


Some specific service areas include:

  • Assessing river and stream channel erosion and instability problems
  • Developing channel bed and bank stabilization measures
  • Restoring and rehabilitating environmentally sensitive stream channels
  • Restoring, enhancing, and managing riparian and aquatic habitat
  • Conducting geomorphic assessments for existing or future bridges and other infrastructure
  • Performing erosion hazard setback delineations
  • Identifying and mapping landform hazards

Fluvial geomorphologists are extensively involved in investigations of fluvial systems throughout the United States. They work closely with federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as public and private entities.

In my own experience, I have worked with residential land developers to identify erosion hazards and setback needs. I’ve evaluated erosion impacts on levee systems for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I’ve also assessed the potential impacts of saline waters that could be released by coal bed methane producers during drilling.

Olsson’s investigations on how water flows impact the land has led to a multitude of rich and interesting experiences for Olsson’s staff members to draw upon for their clients’ needs. For assistance with geomorphology projects, please contact me at 303.237.2072 or wspitz@olssonassociates.com.

William Spitz, a fluvial geomorphologist, examines an eroding riverbank in Loveland, Colorado, after the catastrophic 2013 floods.

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