• Summer Project will Complete Salmon Safe Parking Lot Improvements

    GRESHAM, Ore. – Mt. Hood Community College, the Sandy River Watershed Council and other partners are preparing to complete planned parking lot improvements as part of the Salmon Safe initiative to enhance water quality and habitat on the College's Gresham campus. Funded entirely by local and regional grants, the series of engineered rain gardens, swales, and stormwater filtering planters will clean and capture millions of gallons of rainfall from parking lots G and H, at the north edge of the campus entrance.

    By cleansing the runoff before it enters Beaver and Kelly Creeks, which meet on campus, this summer's project is the next step in a long-term plan to reduce pollution carried by rainfall from MHCC hardscape, including buildings, parking lots and walkways. Beaver Creek is home to populations of wild salmon and other aquatic natives, and an area that supports wild salmon recovery in the Sandy River basin.

    Construction on the parking retrofits will begin August 5 and will finish the week of Sept. 17. Project partners completed the first phase of parking lot improvements in lots E and F during 2018, with landscaping occurring in the winter of 2019. The newly installed green infrastructure, which use natural drainage to reduce unfiltered runoff into nearby creeks, cover just 4 percent of the lots' impervious area but each year will cleanse almost all those lots' stormwater, about 4 million gallons, and remove about 3,000 pounds of pollutants. The Salmon Safe parking lot improvements help MHCC fulfill a commitment as the first Salmon-Safe certified community college in the country.

    "By changing a small area of the parking lots in front of MHCC, the college is taking big strides toward watershed health and salmon recovery in Beaver Creek and the Sandy River," said Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Watershed Council. "The Salmon Safe collaboration is helping MHCC serve as a learning laboratory for sustainable water management and water quality science."

    MHCC achieved the Salmon-Safe designation in 2016. The 5-year Salmon Safe plan identified a range of improvements to buildings, parking lots and other hardscape on campus, prioritizing strategies to intercept the stormwater, while engaging the public and campus community in efforts to improve water quality and habitat.

    MHCC's staff, faculty and students have participated in the retrofits in a number of ways. During an asphalt removal event organized by the non-profit Depave, college students and faculty joined community volunteers to kick off the project by pulling up and removing asphalt. Students from the college's Integrated Media program designed informational signs located at sections of the project where passers-by could learn more about the project. Students from Natural Resources, Fisheries, and Environmental Health and Safety have participated in project monitoring and maintenance of planted areas. Earth Day volunteers from Keen footwear helped remove trash and weed the raingardens. "Through this partnership we have been able to leverage outside funds to improve and protect the incredible natural resources found on campus for students and the community to enjoy," says Doug Schleichert, project coordinator and lead maintenance mechanic at MHCC.

    "MHCC is the institution of higher learning in East County – this is the spot where the majority of students in the area come to college," said Torrey Lindbo, water sciences program manager for the City of Gresham. "So a major component of this project has and will be educating our local students about water conservation and watershed science."

    "This project captures a number of opportunities," said Kathy Shearin, manager of East Multnomah SWCD's urban programs. "Salmon Safe improvements at MHCC deliver stormwater cleanup, water conservation, and better wildlife habit to MHCC's campus. Plus, the projects create opportunities for students and the community to take part in these conservation actions," she added.

    Every year, rainfall across MHCC's buildings and paved areas sends an average of 60 million gallons of untreated runoff directly through stormwater pipes into Beaver and Kelly Creeks, which confluence downstream of the Kelly Creek pond and dam. About half the campus is covered by extensive impervious surfaces, a total of 57 acres, including parking lots, roofs, and pavement.

    Beaver Creek is the lowest tributary of the Sandy River, a regional salmon stronghold for recovery of federally threatened wild fish. Monitoring, including annual salmon spawning surveys by MHCC Fisheries students, indicates that Beaver Creek is both significant fish habitat and faces impaired water quality. In particular, measurements by Gresham and Multnomah County indicate that the pond increases the temperature of Kelly Creek by 4 degrees Celsius in the peak of summer, at times raising the stream temperature from legal to lethal for salmon. Monitoring throughout the Sandy also has shown Beaver Creek to support a disproportionately large fraction of the basin's juvenile salmon. While representing less than 1 percent of all stream miles, Beaver Creek annually hosts between 5-9% of all threatened juvenile coho salmon estimated to migrate from the entire Sandy basin. Studies and volunteer surveys have found a dozen other native fish, lamprey, beaver, otters, salamanders and other wildlife living in Beaver Creek.

    MHCC's partners on the project include the Sandy River Watershed Council, the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD), the City of Gresham, Metro, Salmon Safe, Depave, and the Spirit Mountain Community Fund (SMCF), a grant making organization of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. More than $1 million in grants and in-kind contributions support the project and include funds from EMSWCD, Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant program, the City of Gresham, SMCF, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

    You can learn more about the project by visiting http://sandyriver.org/projects/mhcc-salmon-safe-projects.