Clean Water

Conservation Priorities

Why clean water is important

Clean and abundant fresh water is essential for all life on Earth. We all play an important role in caring for our shared water resources, wetlands, and riparian areasRiparian areas The land alongside a creek, river, pond, or other body of water. Protecting water quality for the benefit of all life is core to our work.

Streams flow through all parts of our district, in the forests up in the West Hills, across many neighborhoods, down to Tryon Creek and the Willamette River, and to wetlands by the edge of Multnomah Channel.

On this page:

    Riparian areas

    Healthy riparian areas include a diversity of native plants that stabilize streambanks and support hundreds of different species of wildlife, large to small—thousands if you count the many kinds of insects and invertebrates! Here you can find fish, frogs, salamanders, crayfish, and birds that perch, feed, rest, and nest. You can also find mammals like beavers and deer that depend on the water and plants for cover, migration corridorsCorridors Wildlife corridor: a stretch of habitat that connects natural areas separated by human land use, and food. Learn more about what riparian areas provide.

    An intact riparianRiparian areas The land alongside a creek, river, pond, or other body of water area is essential to a well-functioning stream ecosystem. Riparian plants cast shade over the stream and help keep it cool and free of algae. The plants can filter water that runs off the landscape before it reaches the stream channel. They also help hold stream banks in place to limit erosion and sediment in streams.

    Risks to clean water


    When rainwater flows down streets, driveways, and sidewalks, or across farm fields, it can pick up pollutants and soil particles along the way. Not all pollutants that enter storm drains are filtered out by the waste water treatment system. In many cases, stormwater flows directly to wetlands, streams, and rivers, and sometimes it even reaches our ground water or well water.

    Pollutants of concern include:

    • Chemicals

      Pesticides, heavy metals from vehicle pollution, mercury in the atmosphere, and other chemicals are often toxic to animals that live in or drink or feed from streams—this can ultimately affect all wildlife and humans who eat the fish and consume food irrigated by such water.

    • Fertilizers

      Fertilizers, when applied in excess, often end up in our waterways and do damage, such as fueling growth of harmful algae and limiting oxygen supply to fish and other aquatic animals.

    • Nitrogen and nitrates

      Excess nitrogen and nitrates from farm fields can make their way into ground water and pollute wells.

    • Pet and livestock waste

      Pet and livestock waste, which contains harmful bacteria that can get washed into bodies of water, can make people and pets sick.

    • Plastics and other litter

      Plastics and other litter contain harmful compounds and break down into tiny pieces. These particles can make their way to the river or ocean where they are consumed by and harm aquatic animals. The particles then end up in our food chain and inside our bodies.



    Runoff from rain affects streams and water quality in both urban and rural settings. Streambanks with too few trees, shrubs, and other vegetation to hold the soil in place more easily erode into the stream and create “muddy” water. While some erosion is natural, too much sediment makes for poor habitat for aquatic animals. Maintaining and restoring a wide variety of native riparian plants creates a vegetated buffer to slow, filter and absorb rain water and minimize erosion. Cover crops on farm fields and in gardens help keep vital soil in place during the rainy months.

    Effects of climate change

    Extreme weather events around the world are now more common and are affecting our aquatic ecosystems. Summer in the Pacific Northwest is getting hotter and drier. We are also experiencing more intense and extended periods of droughtDrought A longer than normal time with not enough rain. This makes our rivers, wetlands, and floodplains warmer and drier during the hot season. Such conditions are bad for native fish and other animals and plants not yet adapted to these changes. Winter and spring are bringing more intense rain storms to our area with increased flooding and erosion. These storms affect water quality, quantity, and availability. Learn how we are adapting our work to climate change.

    • Stormwater & erosion control

      There are many things you can do reduce runoff, erosion, and non-point source pollution.

      Read more
    • Cover cropping

      Cover crops are good for soil and water quality. They can prevent erosion and help keep nutrients in the soil instead of washing into streams or seeping into groundwater. 

      Read more
    • Minimize the impacts of living on the water

      Request a hard copy of our Living on the Water: A Guide for Floating Home Owners & Marina Managers

      View and download resource
    • Farm manure management

      Learn how to properly store and compost farm manure. 

      View and download resource

    Related services

    Find out if you're in our service area.

    We have several services to help you with clean water conservation:

    Clean Water projects

    What we do

    We help farmers, livestock owners, and other partners and community members protect and improve riparian habitat and water quality in streams. This includes reducing contaminants, excess sediment, and high water temperatures. This work benefits fish, people, and a wide variety of plants and wildlife. We monitor water quality and offer strategies that minimize erosion and pollution of our waterways. We work with a wide range of land managers all along our local streams, from headwaters to the mouth, including wetlands. We do not work directly on public drinking water or sewer issues. We do provide education and resources to land owners to help them care for their well water and septic systems.

    Learn more about our work to support clean water

    creek flowing through grassy meadow with trees

    Lower McCarthy Creek stream, wetland, and oak habitat

    McCarthy Creek flows from NW Skyline Boulevard to Multnomah Channel across from Sauvie Island. This creek is unique to the area, providing essential salmonid habitat, especially for coho and Chinook salmon. At the bottom of the watershed is 121 acres of privately owned land. Most of this land is wetlands and within the 100-year floodplain…

    View of Dairy Creek on Sauvie Island, Oregon

    Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project

    Sturgeon Lake is reconnected to the Columbia River! After over a decade of partnership building, planning, fundraising, and engineering, and just over four months of construction, in November 2018, the Dairy Creek channel reopened to tidal flow between the Columbia River and Sturgeon Lake on Sauvie Island. The successful completion of the Sturgeon Lake Restoration…

    Clean Water resources

    • Tips for Streamside Landowners in Multnomah County

      Learn how to protect your land and streambanks from erosion and other riparian area tips.

      View and download resource
    • Guide for Using Willamette Valley Native Plants Along Your Stream

      Find information on natural landscaping, streambank stabilization, and landscaping with native plants for wildlife habitat.

      View and download resource
    • Riparian Tree & Shrub Planting in the Willamette Valley

      Learn about planting trees and shrubs to restore streamside areas, enhance fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and achieve other environmental benefits.

      View and download resource
    • Managing invasive blackberry in riparian areas

      Find information on how to manage Himalayan blackberry in western Oregon riparian areas.

      View and download resource
    • The Private Well Class

      Free online education and resources for well owners.

      View and download resource
    • Rural Living Handbook For Multnomah County

      Tips for rural living in Multnomah County. Request a printed copy of Multnomah County Rural Living Handbook by visiting our resources page.

      View and download resource
    • Clean Water Loan Program

      Learn about financing your septic repair or replacement.

    • Oregon Water Resources Department

      Find information about groundwater and wells.


    Staff contact

    Kammy Kern-Korot


    Senior Conservationist

    Contact me about:

    Oregon oak, savanna, wetlands and riparian habitats; Emerald ash borer; conservation planning and native plantings for pollinators and other wildlife on rural lands.
    x 108

    Scott Gall

    Farm & Soil Conservationist

    Contact me about:

    Soil health; Farms and livestock; Equity and inclusion
    x 105

    Mary Logalbo


    Urban Conservationist

    Contact me about:

    Urban services; Stormwater & erosion; Partner funding; School & community gardens; Plants; Equity and inclusion; Wildfire risk on urban forests; our Long Range Business Plan.
    x 103

    Laura Taylor

    Forest Conservationist

    Contact me about:

    Forest and woodland health; Wildfire risk in rural forests; Plants; Pollinators.
    x 112