The Willamette River’s Grade: B- Overall, B in Benton County
The Willamette River Report Card gives the river an overall passing grade of B- and section grades of B for the upper Willamette (Eugene to Albany), B for the middle Willamette (Albany to Newberg), and C+ for the lower Willamette (Newberg to the Columbia River).
Here in Benton County we are part of the upper Willamette with an overall score of B. The report card was created to establish a baseline for Willamette River health by which progress could be measured in the future and to explain how community actions and individual choices impact river health.
Tens of thousands of people visit the Willamette every year to swim, boat, fish and play, and the Willamette Valley is home to two-thirds of the state’s population. Farmland, cities and our thriving wine and beer industry all rely on the Willamette and its tributaries. And we’re not the only ones who need and use the river—bald eagles, beavers, turtles, salmon and many other animals rely on the river for their survival. It’s an essential component of life and prosperity in the Willamette Valley, the source of 75 percent of Oregon’s economic output.
The health of the Willamette River first came to public attention 50 years ago, when cities and factories were dumping untreated waste and industrial pollution into the river. In the 1960s, former Governor Tom McCall championed a series of initiatives to clean up the Willamette River from municipal and industrial pollution.
Today, that work continues with locally-based conservation districts like Benton SWCD along the Willamette that improve the rivers and streams in their communities. These organizations and others work with landowners and managers to voluntarily improve habitat conditions on their property. Here in Benton County, we work with members of the Willamette Mainstem Cooperative and Benton County Cooperative Weed Management Area to improve stewardship of Willamette River resources with a focus on the Corvallis to Albany river reach. Specifically, we provide information and opportunities for people to work together to achieve shared goals for river health; plan for the short and long-term management of aquatic and terrestrial invasives; prioritize activities based on invasive plant population size and habitat impacts; and protect high quality habitat through control and containment of target invasive plants.
The Meyer Memorial Trust’s Willamette River Initiative produced the Willamette River Report Card with the help of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science and technical experts from more than 20 agencies and organizations. The Report Card is designed to inspire elected officials, advocates and citizens to come together to shape the next generation of improvements to the Willamette River as the valley grapples with a warming climate, reduced snowpacks and pressure from a growing population.
The river was evaluated on five categories of river health:
• Water quality, which includes river water temperature and the level and health risk of toxics;
• Fish and wildlife, based on the status of bald eagles, juvenile Chinook salmon and other native fish species;
• Habitat, based on two important river features: intact floodplain forest and complex and changing river channels;
• Flow, the measure of how much water is flowing through the river compared to historical flows; and
• People and the river, including fish consumption advisories, the health of Tribal fisheries, the presence of fecal bacteria and the occurrence of harmful algal blooms.
1. Here in the upper Willamette we’re in the least developed and most dynamic reach of the river, but it also contains the one of the largest metropolitan areas in Oregon: Eugene/Springfield. With good water quality, diverse habitats, and abundant native fish and wildlife, the upper Willamette scored a solid B. Key concerns include high water temperatures, fish consumption advisories for resident fish, and restrictions on tribal harvest of wild steelhead and Chinook salmon.
The report card reminds us that, while important gains have been made over past decades, future years will bring more people and more pressures to the Willamette Valley – including the likelihood that the warm temperatures we experienced last summer will become more commonplace. Now is the time for action to address today’s challenges and secure a healthy future for the river.
We invite you to join us in that effort and in making the river an even safer, cleaner place. Volunteer with us, and encourage your family, friends and neighbors to join us. You can also lessen your impact on the Willamette River with a few simple behaviors, including reducing the amount of chemicals used at home, choosing non-toxic lawn and garden care products, disposing of hazardous products properly, planting gardens to capture rainwater, and ensuring that pet waste is picked up and thrown away.