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Encouraging Green Infrastructure in Oregon

Investments in the health and resilience of Chicken Creek will benefit wildlife and the local community.

An innovative program is helping restore streambank vegetation across Oregon. The program, one of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s many, is called “water quality trading,” and trading is one of several forward-thinking efforts DEQ uses to boost investment in green infrastructure. Green infrastructure is the practice of using natural ecosystems to deliver specific services. Planting trees and other vegetation along streams to shade waterways is just one example of green infrastructure. The positive benefits of planting trees along streams (also known as riparian restoration) are well established, and include streambank stabilization, sediment and pollution filtration, wildlife habitat, water retention, and carbon sequestration. Many Oregon streams have few riparian trees to perform these important functions.

Restored areas connect wildlife habitats and provide recreational opportunities.

Heat pollution is a problem for rivers and streams statewide. Salmon and other fish are not able to migrate and spawn when temperatures rise above their physiological tolerance. DEQ plays a vital role by setting temperature standards throughout the state, and implementing science-based policies to require any releases of warm water to be eliminated or offset. The appeal of using green infrastructure to offset warming has increased statewide for the past two decades. During this time, water quality trading has fostered unique partnerships between restorers, landowners, and regulated entities to restore well over 100 miles of streams statewide.

Streambank and upland restoration promote a rich biodiversity at Metro’s Baker Creek

DEQ regulates activities that contribute to the warming of waters throughout Oregon. Historically, people have contributed to this warming in a variety of ways. Warming can happen when trees and other vegetation are removed from streambanks. While it can be illegal to remove trees from a particular streambank, regulations generally do not require the active restoration of waterways. Facilities that treat wastewater also release lightly warmed water to rivers and streams. These facilities can choose to offset their heat loading by installing grey or “built” infrastructure: expensive engineered solutions that can include chillers or cooling towers. A cooling structure will generally be used only when needed—often for portions of a day during times of the year when temperature exceedances are expected. Because of this, DEQ encourages its permittees to consider green infrastructure alternatives whenever possible. Consistent with federal and state laws, these facilities may offset their heat by installing green infrastructure to shade streams elsewhere in a watershed.

Restoration projects have budgets in the millions of dollars, providing jobs and supporting local economies.

If we look beyond the importance of streamside shade, green infrastructure produces unexpected benefits. Restoration projects have budgets in the millions of dollars, providing jobs and supporting local economies. Restored areas connect wildlife habitats and provide recreational opportunities. One of the best installations of green infrastructure is in the Ashland-Medford area, near the origin of the Almeda fire. These restoration sites are remarkable for their size, the quality of the work, and their aesthetic qualities in contrast to the surrounding environment. Closer to Portland, restoration along Fanno Creek has reintroduced natural stream structure to an urban stream, while enhancing an adjacent greenway and park. DEQ sees these and similar projects as examples that encourage the installation of green infrastructure statewide, providing added value for Oregonians.

Brian Creutzburg

Tualatin Basin Coordinator, Water Quality Trading Program

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