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Agency buys land to prevent flooding, new homes near wetlands

The sight of rushing water in a stream can be lovely, but when that same water is rushing through your basement or eroding the banks under your house and deck — that’s another story entirely.

Luckily for the residents in the Echo Valley section of Happy Valley, Clackamas County’s Water Environment Services personnel were able to mount a project to address the runoff and erosion problems.

Although it took a few years to come to fruition, the Echo Valley Project is complete, and project manager Leah Johanson said she has received no complaints from the six homeowners most affected by the water problems.

One homeowner, Angela Fox, publisher of the Clackamas Review and Oregon City News, said she initially had concerns and did lose some trees during the process, but is pleased by the outcome.

She added, “I would like to compliment Leah Johanson and staff for their continued communication and service. They had to work with the homeowners during the process to answer questions and ensure us that it all would be worth the construction and wait, and they did a great job.”

Johanson, a senior civil engineer with WES, said the project actually began six years ago, when complaints from homeowners began to accumulate about water in crawlspaces and basements and significant erosion on their properties.

Employees at WES already knew about the issues, and the agency was able to purchase the three remaining properties on the Echo Valley site so no more homes could be built there after 1996, Johanson said.

Located at the headwaters of Cedar Creek, the area is “naturally a wetland,” Johanson said, adding that there always has been water there, but with the influx of homes and pavement, two main storm channels developed in the neighborhood.

In the initial stages of the project, homeowners were sent mailings and invited to attend meetings, held at nearby Clackamas High School.

Neighbors looked at maps of the area and discussed alternatives available.

After the preferred alternative was selected, construction at the site began in the summer of 2013.

“Through constant back and forth with homeowners, we helped them understand what was going on. We asked them to bear with us through construction,” Johanson said.

Echo Valley Project

The basic goal of the project was to slow down the water in Cedar Creek, divert it away from homeowners’ property and move the flows onto WES-owned land, where it could be naturally filtered.

“We brought in logs to slow down the water and divert it. We also incorporated boulders and planted willow stakes to stabilize the banks along the creek,” Johanson said.

Because the roots of willow trees are so dense, they “hold the soil in and are great stabilizers,” said Gail Shaloum, environmental policy specialist with WES.

Some homeowners were taken aback that trees were cut down, but those trees were non-natives and were too big for the site, Johanson said, adding that they kept as many trees as possible.

Johanson also pointed out that the contractors Tammy and Dean Edgerly, of T. Edge Construction, deliberately left portions of standing tree trunks, called snags, to provide good habitat for nesting birds.

“Those snags are rare in an urban environment, and so valuable to insects and birds,” Shaloum said.

In addition to installing the logs and boulders, the Edgerlys also removed invasives from the site and replanted it with native species.

“We have an agreement with them that they will continue to keep the invasives at bay to allow the natives” to thrive, Johanson said.

And those natives, including shrubs and wetland herbaceous plants, will work to “stabilize eroding banks and help filter pollutants from rooftops, cars and whatever people put on their lawns,” Shaloum added.

The project, now complete, has improved livability for homeowners by slowing the water down, moving the flow away from their homes, and enhancing the wetlands, Johanson said, adding that the project also has created habitat for frogs, ducks and other birds.

Clackamas High School

partnership

Shaloum is now heading up a partnership project with the North Clackamas School District and Clackamas High School, looking for ways “to retrofit the campus, by creating rain gardens, using stormwater planters and installing porous pavement.”

The project has three main goals, and No. 1 is to “see if we can slow down the runoff from any rain events at that site,” she said.

No. 2 is to build some demonstration projects, like creating rain gardens and constructing planters, to educate community members about what they can do to enhance water quality, and filter out pollutants around their homes.

And finally, “we want to provide hands-on learning for the students. We want to help them apply what they are learning in the classroom to the outdoors. We want them to learn about stormwater, and then come out and build a rain garden,” Shaloum said.

She added that all of these projects apply to the STEM curriculum, which is the study of science, technology, engineering and math.

Also, “when you educate kids, you are educating their families and the community. These kids are going to be the stewards of the land in the future,” Shaloum said.

WES

Water Environment Services provides surface-water management services, wastewater collection and treatment, and biosolids reuse for seven cities and several unincorporated areas in Clackamas County. Stormwater management, on-site sewage disposal, and water-quality and stream-enhancement projects also are coordinated by WES.

Educating the community is vital, noted J. Michael Read, the interim director at WES.

“When people complain about the surface-water fee, we explain about impervious surfaces and pollutants, like pesticides and urban and agricultural runoff, that end up in the rivers and streams,” he said.

“Luckily Mother Nature provides us with plants to filter out pollutants. We have to remember that we all live upstream of somebody,” he added, noting that Cedar Creek in Echo Valley feeds into Mount Scott Creek, which in turn feeds into Kellogg Creek and, ultimately, the Willamette River.

Gari Johnson, the watershed health education coordinator at WES sums it up this way, Johanson said: “If it’s on the ground, it’s in the water.”

And Shaloum added, “We’re all connected.”

To speak to J. Michael Read, interim director at WES, call 503-742-4560, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Call Leah Johanson, senior civil engineer at WES, at 503-742-4620; call Gail Shaloum, environmental policy specialist at WES, at 503-742-4597.