Letting the River Roam

From frogs to fish, beavers, and otters, our rivers are home to an incredible abundance of animals. Reconnecting our rivers to allow for water to slow and spread not only improves water quality and retention on the landscape but also provides important habitat for the beloved animals around us.

This fall, contractors worked on Green Island to restore connections between land and water. This latest swale reconnection project, funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, builds on years of investments in this area.

Beginning in the 1930s, Green Island was slowly converted to agricultural use. However, farming in an active
floodplain was not without challenges. Equipment often sunk into deep, wet soils, and ongoing flooding created issues. In the early 2000s, family matriarch Karen Green worked with the Trust and many partners to give the land back to the river.

Since purchasing the property in 2003, we have worked alongside our community to help make that vision a reality. We’ve removed more than 6 miles of levees and planted over a million trees and shrubs. Acre by acre, we’ve worked in partnership with the land and water here to do the hopeful work of seeding a forest for future generations to enjoy.

This December, just weeks after the completion of the project, warm rain raised water levels in the Willamette River system. As the water rose, it was welcomed back onto the landscape through the recently reconstructed swale.
 
Allowing the river access to the floodplain has a cascade of benefits for plants, animals, and people. As high water threatens downstream communities with flooding, places like Green Island can activate and absorb that water. Here, as the water slows and spreads, sediments and organic matter are filtered out of the water as it percolates through the soil.
Braiding veins of water ranging from side channels to swales, create a diversity of habitat to benefit fish and wildlife. Along the edges of swales, beavers and red-winged blackbirds make their homes, utilizing the quieter aquatic habitat to raise the next generation. Out of the pulsing flow of the mainstem Willamette, young fish and frogs are able to grow. More organic matter is captured in off-channel habitats which leads to an increase in nutrient-rich foods for bugs and other critters that make up the base of the food system here.
 
Here where our urban core meets the wild, protecting and caring for these special places is a critical step in protecting our plant and animal neighbors. With your support, the recent swale reconnection project is just one more small action that ensures decades of positive impact for the future of our rivers and all who call them home.
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