Restoring Watersheds and Salmon Runs

By Don MacGillivray

It is a great tragedy that there is little remaining salmon habitat throughout the Pacific Northwest. One hundred years ago, streams and rivers were thick with Chinook and Coho salmon, Steelhead and Cutthroat trout.

The fifty-two square mile Johnson Creek watershed in SE is one of the last remaining creek systems in the Portland region that can be restored.

In the early 20th century farms and homes were built on its floodplain and the stream was increasingly channelized causing biennial flooding and a severe loss of fish habitat. 

After World War II, urban development expanded and the natural environment deteriorated, causing serious problems of flooding, pollution, high water temperatures, and stream impediments, all of which contributed to the decline of salmon population.

The 1995 Johnson Creek Resources Management Plan described the problems and renewed an interest in environmental stewardship to restore the area and allow the salmon to return. This would involve cleaning up the river by removing inappropriate structures and invasive plant species. 

Portland Bureau of Environmental Services and other regional policymakers produced the Johnson Creek Restoration Plan in 2001. Over the next six years, seventy-five projects were carried out to address fundamental problems of the area.

Crystal Springs Creek is a two and a half mile long tributary of Johnson Creek that travels through Sellwood, Westmoreland, and Eastmoreland to Reed College. There it is fed by a spring near SE 36th Ave. and Ellis St. 

It is being restored and made fish friendly with an $18 million public-private partnership. A major feature of the project is the replacement of culverts under McLoughlin Blvd., the Union Pacific railroad, and at seven other roadway locations. 

In addition to improving salmon habitat, birds and animals, including beavers, river otters, and freshwater mussels will benefit. 

More than seven thousand trees and shrubs have been planted along the creek, creating a band of green infrastructure in Westmoreland Park. This will improve Portland’s stormwater and carbon sequestration efforts. 

The improved stream front of several acres has significantly improved water quality in the creek and resulted in reduced temperatures and other improvements for the spawning salmon. 

The cities livability is enhanced with the replacement of the lake with extensive wetlands and by a natural playground with environmental educational activities. It is estimated that the value of the flood reduction benefits is $150,000 per acre and one hundred and fifty employment opportunities were created. 

It is hoped the future of Crystal Springs Creek will improve due to the greater care now being given the health of the creek. With the replacement of the old culverts, there will be no barriers to the salmon spawning between Reed College and the Willamette River. 

Scientists have recorded spawning pairs of three fish species previously thought to have been driven from this ecosystem. 

Other grants from the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District provided resources to this project. The restored park hosts an annual salmon festival in partnership with the Native American community that attracts about five thousand park users each year.

Portland entered the Crystal Springs Watershed Restoration project into an international competition among one hundred cities throughout the world designed to show how various urban projects can address the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

Known as the Cities 100 Project, each city champions their own independent project. The major cities take the brunt of the effects of climate change and these projects will provide examples for other cities to follow.

Portland’s Crystal Springs Creek salmon restoration project was part of the Adaptation and Resilience category. It is not as big or important as some projects, but it addresses a unique niche that serves as an example other cities might choose to follow.

The excellent Cities 100 report demonstrates the leadership of the world’s cities to address the climate crisis featuring a wide range of projects. It gives detailed information about each project and how they will maintain safe, livable, and equitable communities for citizens while implementing the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. 

Cities100 is a collaboration among the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the Danish philanthropic association, Realdania.

In this months election, Metro ballot measure 26-203 will provide continued support of the work to improve the environment and natural resources of the region. 

The bill aims to restore, protect, and improve: water quality, fish runs, the headwaters of local rivers, wildlife habitat and natural areas, wetlands for flood control, and Metro’s Oxbow and Blue Lake parks among others. 

This is a proven way to address climate change and improve Portland’s natural environment.

Restoring Watersheds and Salmon Runs

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