• MHCC Becomes Nation’s First Community College Certified as Salmon-Safe

    As the site of two Sandy River tributaries (Beaver and Kelly creeks), Mt. Hood Community College’s 212-acre Gresham Campus serves an integral role in the encompassing 500-square-mile Sandy River basin. It falls upon MHCC to steward this land, and a recently earned certification and series of proposed campus-wide stormwater management projects demonstrates the school’s commitment to that stewardship effort.

    Kelly Creek

    Over the next five to seven years, MHCC will implement nearly two dozen clean-water retrofitting projects and continue existing sustainable practices as part of its commitment as the nation’s only community college certified as Salmon-Safe. The retrofits focus on diverting runoff into the ground, where pollutants will filter out naturally before the water reaches the creeks; on capturing and using rainwater; and on reducing stormwater management costs for the college.

    MHCC produces approximately 60 million gallons of runoff per year and was identified as one of the largest single stormwater sources in Gresham by the City of Gresham. This is due largely to the size of the campus, the age of its infrastructure and the era in which the campus and its facilities were constructed.

    As part of its clean-water retrofitting effort, MHCC and its partners have already begun multiple naturescaping initiatives around campus, including planting bioswales (landscaped drainage features) near the G.E. buildings and Early Childhood Education Center. This summer, the college will start several other early action projects, such as adding naturescaping to the parking lots adjacent to the Yoshida Event Center and the Fisheries Management building. Additionally, MHCC will begin planning for three larger-scale projects, with a goal of going to bid the end of this year and completing the initiatives by 2019.

    These large-scale projects include building bioswales and a pedestrian walkway in parking area “A” (adjacent to Kelly Creek Pond), and re-striping the lot to add more efficient angled parking spaces. Lots “E,” “F,” “G” and “H” will be repaved with permeable pavement; re-striped with angled spaces; and constructed with bioswales, naturescaping and pedestrian walkways. And MHCC will add naturescaping, rain gardens, and an education and demonstration area – with a working cistern – to the courtyard north of the library.

    Near-term projects slated for completion within the next seven years include naturescaping the courtyard south of the library and adding bioswales and similar runoff-retention features to several additional parking lots. Longer-term projects could potentially involve installing green roofs, water harvesting equipment, rain gardens and demonstration courtyards throughout campus and redesigning stormwater drainage sites – or outflows – so that runoff does not run directly to the creeks.

    According to Charles George, MHCC’s director of facilities management, these initiatives represent a unified effort by the school and its partners to affect environmental change on campus, and they will provide a great learning opportunity for members of the college.

    “As good stewards of the land, it is our responsibility to find methods of improving our water quality and environment,” said George. “I’m very pleased with the efforts of the school and its partners in committing to improve not only the environmental impact of MHCC, but also the aesthetics and educational opportunities we can provide our students and staff here.”

    George said that students, faculty, staff and the community will all have opportunities to participate in aspects of the project and in collecting stormwater-related monitoring data once they finish. The retrofits could potentially serve as “learning laboratories” that instructors and academic programs envelop into their curriculum.

    Estimated stormwater reduction at
    MHCC due to near- and long-term projects.
    Courtesy of Herrera Environmental Consultants.

    MHCC earned the Salmon-Safe certification in November 2016. A third-party designation administered by the Portland-based Salmon Safe 501(c)3, Salmon Safe certification has been achieved by numerous regional businesses and organizations, including Nike, the City of Portland Parks & Recreation and Lewis & Clark College.

    Salmon-Safe Executive Director Dan Kent said that the nonprofit will formally award MHCC with its new certification this spring.

    “We’re inspired by the bold restoration vision of MHCC and its success in engaging partners like Metro and Sandy River Basin Watershed Council,” added Kent.

    In earning the peer-reviewed certification, MHCC committed to a series of yearly sustainable campus improvements over the next five years. The first step, taken last spring, involved conducting an opportunity analysis of potential campus projects. An additional commitment by the college includes conducting a feasibility study for developing a fish ladder or similar safe passage feature through, over or around the Kelly Creek dam.

    According to Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, the water in Kelly Creek pond is about 4 degrees warmer than that downstream, and as a result does not provide the best habitat for salmon. And approximately one in 10 juvenile fish in the Sandy River basin swims up Beaver Creek, and potentially tributaries like Kelly Creek. Improving flow in Kelly Creek – for instance by removing the earthen embankment dam and replacing it with a bridge – should make the pond and upstream areas more suitable for salmon and other fish, said Wise. Permeable pavement, rain gardens and naturescapes will also help to cool runoff from MHCC and naturally filter out pollutants.

    Rendering of North Library Courtyard from Herrera Environmental Consultants.

    Achieving Salmon-Safe certification required collaboration, as will completing the retrofits. MHCC’s partners on the project (known as the Beaver Creek Conservation Partnership) include Oregon Metro, the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (EMSWCD), Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, the City of Gresham, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) and Multnomah County. The Beaver Creek Partnership maintains a broader focus on restoring and protecting the Beaver Creek watershed; the work at MHCC represents one of the organization’s conservation initiatives. Additional supporting and/or sponsoring organizations include the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), Oregon Department of Agriculture, Intel Laboratories and the nonprofit Depave.

    “The partnerships in the Clean Water Retrofit are one of its greatest strengths,” said Wise. “Like Beaver and Kelly creeks, each came from a different direction but have flowed naturally together. All these organizations have found common cause in converting the college campus form a stormwater hotspot into a bastion of watershed health.”

    Several partners and sponsor organizations have committed funds and/or manpower to the retrofits already. OWEB provided nearly $10,000 for several early action projects, and Metro committed $486,000 through a Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant. The Metro funds are a 2:1 matching grant; the City of Gresham and EMSWCD will commit nearly $700,000 (in the form of cash and volunteer manpower) of the approximately $972,000 needed to match the Metro grant. The remainder will come from other organizations, such as ODEQ, and from private donors.

    Upon completion of some early action projects, MHCC expects to divert costs from its stormwater remediation payments towards its retrofits. Each month, MHCC pays approximately $20,000 to the City of Gresham to remediate its runoff. The college will measure the amount of runoff (using volunteers and Intel Labs monitoring equipment) with an expectation of reducing its monthly stormwater fees. Additionally, by working with MHCC to reduce runoff and water pollutants, the City of Gresham accomplishes parts of a five-year stormwater improvement plan, which it established to meet EPA Clean Water Act guidelines.

    MHCC’s retrofits will also support the initiatives of other agencies, and vice versa. For example, this summer Multnomah County will replace the culvert where Beaver Creek passes under Stark Street to make it optimal for fish passage. In 2018, the County will replace the Beaver Creek culvert underneath Cochran Road for the same purpose.

    Rendering of Lots EFGH from Herrera Environmental Consultants.