John Beardsley, a research field specialist in the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) Watershed Science Section, joined ISWS in 1988. John’s activities mainly focus on river and stream restoration and storm monitoring. He recently answered questions about his career.
What sparked your interest in your career field?
I have always been interested in nature, geology, and archeology and drawn to rivers and streams. I think being born in the river rat town of Muscatine, Iowa, helped nurture my fondness of rivers and streams. In 1987 I started working for the Knox County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) as a streams crew foreman funded by the Illinois Department of Conservation. Much of the work consisted of installing and testing stream restoration methods (willow post, tree revetments, and LUNKERS structures) under the guidance of Don Roseboom of the ISWS. The projects proved successful, and I was hired by the ISWS in 1988, joining the Stream and Watershed Assessment (SWAR) program (formerly the Non-Point Pollution program).
Today I am still promoting the SWAR program and am currently managing the Benchmark Sediment Monitoring network under Illinois State Hydrologist Laura Keefer.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Studying river and stream processes and helping to develop methods that help restore degraded river and stream systems to a balanced and more natural condition.
What is most challenging about your job?
There have been various challenges over the years, such as project logistics, working with new technologies, etc., but I think keeping up with storm events can be the most challenging, especially during wet years. Storm events have an independent schedule, and collecting discharge measurements and water samples during flood events can be intense, but new, advanced sampling equipment has greatly reduced the workload.
What is a typical workday like?
The workday hasn’t been typical most of this year due to Covid-19, but previously, long hours on the road, overnight stays, collecting water samples, preparing for workshops, presentations, conferences, and processing information requests.
What project are you most proud of?
Installing a series of artificial pool and riffles in the Cache River. Past channelization of the Cache River had caused the river to greatly incise through the Cache River Natural Area, threatening to drain preserved wetlands, including Heron Pond, an internationally renowned wetland. Supervising the construction was a challenge because the project required 25 riffle structures installed over a 5-mile reach, 29,000 tons of stone in 2,000 truckloads, construction of 5 miles of unimproved road, several gully plugs and road crossings. The project took three years to complete.
The artificial riffles mimic natural riffles and act like a grade control, slowing the incision process and helping to stabilize water levels in the wetlands. Though riffles were installed in a geomorphic sense, the project had a positive domino effect on the biology by increasing macroinvertebrates and bird populations. I have installed several pool and riffle series throughout Illinois, but because of the value of the natural resources and the studies conducted, I feel this project has had a positive impact and I have contributed to a worthy cause.
How has the field of hydrology changed since you started your career?
Equipment and methods for measuring discharge and collecting storm event samples have greatly improved over the years. When I started at the ISWS in the late 80s, computers were new, and modeling was in its infancy. Today modeling is widely used in many aspects of hydrology.