Urban Stream Restoration: A Work in Progress

By Jamie Powell | September 10, 2015
Dixon Creek w Houses
Dixon Creek runs through neighborhoods in Corvallis


“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”-Aldo Leopold

The Place

Urban streams and waterways flow through every town in Benton County. These aquatic systems do much more than carry water to the sea; they provide us with our municipal drinking water, support fish, birds, and other wildlife, and make our parks and neighborhoods more beautiful.

The Problem

Streams are vulnerable places in the urban landscape because they are low lying and easily degraded by the effects of development. Increased impervious areas such as driveways, streets, and rooftops cause a major increase in discharging stormwater runoff, as well as a rise in the temperature of the water. This can lead to problems for wetland flora and fauna that are sensitive to changes in temperature and water depth. With stormwater runoff come physical, biological, and chemical additives. Sediment can cloud the water and make it difficult or impossible for aquatic plants and wildlife to sustain. Debris such as plastic bags, six-pack rings, cigarette butts, and other trash can be harmful to wildlife in the stream. Bacteria and other pathogens can wash into the waterway and create health hazards. Household hazardous waste such as motor oil, pesticides and herbicides, paint, and others can poison aquatic life.

Culvert under a hiking trail


What You Can Do

Corvallis has over 14 miles of streams in a 13.5 square mile area, and most of the riparian corridors in the city are privately owned. You can help mitigate the deleterious effects of urbanization and improve water quality. Impervious areas can be transformed by replacing a pavement driveway with gravel. Catch water from the rooftop by installing a “green roof,” or installing a catchment system at the rain gutters. Install bioswales along urban streets and parking lots to reduce stormwater and toxins that drain into the streams. Take an afternoon to remove trash from your neighborhood creek, pick up trash on the street before it has a chance to enter the stream, and of course, properly dispose of household toxins are all measures that reduce harm to stream inhabitants. Planting native trees and shrubs starts the creek on the road to recovery. Some great plants will be available at the annual Benton SWCD Native Plant Sale. Order time begins in November!

green roof w goats
Green Roof


The Outcome

As the water quality improves, the diversity of plants, fish, and aquatic insect species increases. After a few years, what was once a degraded ditch filled with garbage is now a healthy stream. Native fish species such as trout and salmon can now live in the stream as well as many native animals such as birds, frogs, salamanders, snakes, deer, and otters. With your help, this can happen to the stream in your neighborhood too!

Urban Stream Restoration Poster
American Fisheries Society Oregon Chapter – posters available for free at Benton SWCD

About the Author

Jamie Powell

Jamie has a background in horticulture and soil science. She currently enjoys working on an organic vegetable farm in Corvallis and interns at the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District.

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