Locus Focus on 02/07/11
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHNSON CREEK
Last December three dead coho salmon were found 15 miles upstream along the banks of Johnson Creek. This once trashed out forgotten waterway flows 26 miles from its headwaters near the Sandy River to its confluence with the Willamette River, passing through four cities (Gresham, Portland, Milwaukie, and Happy Valley) and two counties (Clackamas and Multnomah) along the way. Over 100 years ago it supported salmon runs so plentiful that it's said you could catch fish with a pitchfork. But when pioneers moved to the area, they logged the banks of the creek and created slash dams so they could float logs downstream. Without tree cover the creek water warmed, harming the salmon and the dams killed fish by keeping them from their spawning grounds. Pollutants and chemical spills over the years also killed bugs the fish feed on. To make matters worse, in the 1930s, the city of Portland launched a massive project to dig a channel in Johnson Creek, lining the banks with rocks to lessen flooding and killing even more fish.
Over the past few decades the city of Portland, along with neighboring jurisdictions, is working to right past wrongs: replanting trees to restore a forest canopy that cools the creek and allowing the creek to flood again by restoring its natural floodplain. On this episode of Locus Focus we talk with Matt Clark, the director of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council about the death and rebirth of Johnson Creek: how it has been transformed from a derelict neighborhood repository for garbage into a jewel of urban nature.