Willamette River Gets B- On New Report Card

Jun 24, 2016

The Willamette River got a B-minus on its first report card. The grade reflects the overall health of the river. KLCC’s Rachael McDonald checked in with Joe Moll with the McKenzie River Trust which works to improve river habitat in the Eugene Springfield area.

Joe Moll: “So right now, we’re on the northwest corner of Green Island, along the main stem Willamette River and directly across from us is a huge pile  of old cottonwood trees, both the main part of the tree as well as the roots all tipped up, torn up. They fell probably a quarter mile, a half a mile upstream into the river and, now piled up in a bank.”  
Moll says that’s a sign of the river’s health. The stream here is allowed to meander naturally. Downed trees, like these cottonwoods, can form safe places for fish to hang out in shelter and shade. Green Island is Mckenzie River Trust’s largest property. They’ve been working for years here to restore the river’s natural flow.

Credit Rachael McDonald

Moll:  "The river is in many ways in good shape. It’s pretty encouraging to see especially how close people feel, how connected people are, the recreation opportunities along the river, the cultural connections. In other ways the river is hurting pretty bad. It’s warm.”
Moll says for Chinook Salmon and other native fish the water temperature causes stress, making them more susceptible to disease and death.
The confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers is about 2 miles from here.
Moll: “If you’re at that confluence in a boat especially, it’s pretty dramatic. The McKenzie is about 10 to 15 degrees colder right there. It’s a deeper green. It doesn’t have the milky color that the Willamette does. So you see the both the importance of the McKenzie for the overall health of the Willamette and the susceptibility of the Willamette to what can happen upstream.”

Credit Rachael McDonald

The Willamette River report card was issued by the Meyer Memorial Trust. They plan to put out regular grades every several years. The Willamette gets a poorer grade as it moves downstream. Again Joe Moll:
Moll: “The headwaters of the Willamette River in the McKenzie and in the Middle Fork and the Coast Fork are some of the purest water in the world and as it heads downstream, we live along its banks and we bring things into it and water quality declines to the point where you get to the Portland Harbor and it’s a superfund site. It’s a story common all over the world and I think there’s a growing awareness that for the quality of life downstream, everything we do upstream makes a difference.”
Moll points out that utilities are looking to the Willamette as a secondary water source to the McKenzie for the Eugene area. He says as more people are moving to the area that’s another reason to work to improve the river.
We’re very fortunate to have the McKenzie River as our source of drinking water and source of all sorts of things. But if something were to happen to the McKenzie, we’d really be in trouble.”
This Saturday, the McKenzie River Trust opens Green Island to the public for its annual Living River Celebration.