Portland, Oregon

Beginning approximately 195 miles from our home base in Parkland Wash., the Willamette River runs through some of Oregon’s most populated areas including Portland and Eugene.

The Willamette River serves as an important economic and cultural resource for the Portland community. Our team wanted to make sure to include this perspective in Changing Currents. We gathered together on a Friday evening and made our way down to Portland to continue our tour of the Pacific Northwest, arriving late that evening.

The next morning and seeking to make efficient use of time, the team split into two groups. Chris, Kelly, and Rachel met up with Kaola Swanson, Associate Conservation Director, and Tim Wigington, Associate Managing Director and Staff Attorney, of the Portland based conservation group, The Freshwater Trust, to discuss solutions to issues affecting the Willamette River.

“The questions that we face are more complex than they used to be,” Swanson said, “to really address water issues, we really need to think of it as a social and economic question as much as an ecological question.”

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In order to address each of these areas, the Freshwater Trust applies an approach known as Quantified Conservation.

“The more data we have, the more tools that we have, the better off we’ll be,” said Swanson, “It’ll allow us to solve problems in a much more holistic way.”

Tim Wigington further explained, “by taking measurements, counting the benefits, and setting goals you can then figure out which of the best restoration opportunities will help achieve those goals.”

The Freshwater Trust has been applying the Quantified Conservation approach for over 30 years with positive results. Over that time The Freshwater Trust has grown to become the largest restoration focused organization in the Pacific Northwest.

In response to what he thinks makes The Freshwater Trust unique, Wigington remarked, “I think it’s the fact that we get to be innovative and solutions focused.”

Meanwhile, 10 minutes downstream, John and Josh met up with members of another Portland based restoration group, The Willamette Partnership, to discuss ways in which people could get involved in river protection efforts.

“For anyone living near a river, take any action you can!” said Bobby Cochran, the Executive Director of the Willamette Partnership. “Be aware of policy decisions that are going on. At home, be conscious of where your water is coming from, take a tour of your wastewater treatment plant.”

Cochran then discussed the components that make up a river body and why it’s so important to address every part.

“To me a river is a system. It’s impossible to disconnect the parts of a river from each other, Cochran explained. “You’ve got the land that’s next to the river, then you’ve got the water that starts on that land and comes through. Once you start collecting the water down into the river itself, you have all of the components that make it supportive for fish, people, and the economy. When you think about the important components of a river you really have to think of it as a whole.”

The Willamette Partnership was started as a coalition in 2004 to develop innovative, market-based tools to deliver broad conservation benefits. These developments were so successful that in 2009, The Willamette Partnership expanded operations to include additional sites in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State.

For Bobby Cochran, however, the connection to the Willamette River runs deep.

“The river is restorative to me,” Cochran said, “it really is the lifeblood for me, my kids, and of the rest of the community. Portland would not be here if it wasn’t for the Willamette River.”

After wrapping up our conversations with The Freshwater Trust and the Willamette Partnership, our team then re-grouped and got a chance to explore Portland for a time. Soon after, we all hopped into our rental car and made our way back to Parkland to sort through footage and prepare for the next leg of our Northwest adventure.

For photos of our time in Portland, please visit our Willamette River gallery page.