Reed College Canyon

Canyon Restoration

Crystal Springs Headwaters
Fish Passage and Restoration Project

Reed College, Portland, Oregon

This page gives an overview of the fish passage project as it was described in several grant proposals. The text was written by Diane Gumz, Director of Corporate and Foundation Support at Reed College.

canyon image

Crystal Springs Headwaters Fish Passage and Restoration Project

I. Project Abstract

II. Proposal

Project Need

Project Goal and Objectives


Program Monitoring and Evaluation

Overall Context


View Photos and Videos of the Project

I. Project Abstract

Oregon is struggling to restore its native fish populations and the aquatic systems that support them. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has noted that successful recovery will be accomplished only by investing in watershed enhancements on these private lands that comprise mile after mile of critical stream reaches throughout the state. Reed Canyon, Reed Lake, and Crystal Springs Creek on the Reed College campus represent one of these important reaches in the Portland metropolitan area.

The 5-acre lake is the site of the Crystal Springs headwaters, and is identified in the Johnson Creek Basin Protection Plan as "the only naturally occurring pond (or lake) remaining in the inner-city area." Crystal Springs is a critical, high quality ground water resource in the Johnson Creek system. In all, the canyon provides 21 acres of high quality wildlife habitat in the midst of the city. In the 1930's, a pool was built and the natural stream alignment was altered. Since then, the spring has been piped under the road and extended 200' downstream, past the swimming pool, before returning to the stream bed. The springs have been diverted through a culvert. Although spawning gravels are present and silt free, the culvert has made the waterway impassable for fish. In addition, invasive plants are spreading unchecked throughout the site.

Reed College has developed a plan to restore the canyon and lake to a self-sustaining, ecologically balanced condition over a period of five years. The College intends to reestablish the original stream channel and install a fishladder, as well as reestablish riparian habitat and restore native plants. The College has a long history of stewardship and study of the site.

The objectives for the project are to improve habitat for birds, animals, and aquatic species; create new spawning and rearing grounds for salmon and other resident fish species; and assure the quality of this important water source for the Johnson Creek system. Most important, the project will work in concert with efforts by the City of Portland and others in the region to reconnect one of Portland's remaining historical waterways to the Willamette River and the Pacific Ocean and contribute to the long term survival of Oregon's native fish populations.

II. Proposal

Project Need
The springs that issue forth on the east end of Reed canyon are the headwaters of Crystal Springs Creek, the purest water source in the Johnson Creek Watershed. The 21-acre canyon on the Reed College campus has historically provided habitat for a diverse array of wildlife. Between 1973 and 1993, four population inventories found 16 species of fish from eight different families in Reed Lake. These included: Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (juveniles and adults); Steelhead and/or Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss (juveniles and adults); Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarki (juveniles and adults); Redside Shiner, Richardsonius balteatus (juveniles and adults); Speckled Dace, Rhinichthys osculus (adults); Largescale Sucker, Catostomus macrocheilus (juveniles and adults); Bridgelip Sucker, Catostomus columbianus (juveniles and adults); Brown Bullhead, Ameiurus nebulosus (adult); Threespine stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus; Pacific lamprey, Lampetra tridentata; and Prickly sculpin, Cottus asper (adults).

Bird inventories have documented 83 different types of birds that visit or breed at the site, including great blue heron, green-backed heron, orange-crowned warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, McGillivray's warbler and belted kingfisher. The canyon is home to one amphibian species, the terrestrial Oregon salamander (Ensatina eschscholtzii oregonensis). But the combination of lake, riparian and upland habitat could support other species as well, such as the rough skinned newt, western pond turtle, and tree frog. The location also provides habitat for beaver, muskrat, nutria, raccoon, squirrels, moles, shrews, rabbits, bats, marsupials, and oppossums. An assessment of fish and wildlife habitat commissioned by the Portland Parks and Recreation Department summarizes the value of the site for wildlife, noting that "the diversity of habitat types, plant diversity and quantity, and the mosaic of wetland communities make the Reed Canyon the highest quality habitat area within the City of Portland's portion of Johnson Creek basin."

But plant diversity has been gradually diminishing, replaced by invasive and noxious species. The site contains six plant species that have been listed as noxious weeds by the Oregon Department of Agriculture: Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), English ivy (Hedera helix), Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor), and Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius). Native plants are also being suppressed by such invasives as English Holly (Ilex aquifolium), English Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), Western clematis (Clematis ligusticifolia), Traveler's Joy (Clematis vitalba), Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), and Reed Canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea).

The impact of these noxious weeds and aggressive plants on the native plant communities in the Canyon and water quality is significant. By reducing, suppressing and replacing native and shade providing plants along stream corridors, English ivy ultimately increases erosion and sedimentation and reduces water quality necessary for aquatic wildlife. Ivy's streamside dominance results in more direct sunlight and higher water temperatures. This further degrades the water quality because warmer water has less capacity to carry oxygen. Finally, ivy's predominance in the landscape reduces food sources for terrestrial wildlife and the aquatic wildlife which feed on the organisms attracted by streamside and overhanging vegetation. Similarly, Himalayan blackberries create erosion on the banks of the canyon, pulling the bank down with its weight. Of the noxious weeds found at the site, the most extensive problems are being created by English ivy (Hedera helix) and Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor).

While the water quality of Reed Lake and Crystal Springs is good, other rivers, creeks and watersheds in Oregon have not fared so well. Habitat loss has contributed to the listing of eight species of salmon and steelhead in Washington and Oregon as threatened and one species as endangered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) since 1998. The current listings affect the entire Willamette River watershed, both above the falls in Oregon City, including the Tualatin River and its tributaries, as well as below Willamette Falls to its confluence with the Columbia River.

Water quality and quantity are vital for salmon survival. Crystal Springs Creek is one of a handful of historic waterways in the Portland metropolitan area that has not been paved, rerouted, or drained. It flows for 2.1 miles past the Rhododendron Gardens and Crystal Springs Lake on the western edge of the Eastmoreland Golf Course and runs south through Westmoreland Park to Johnson Creek Park at the confluence with Johnson Creek, a tributary of the Willamette River. Crystal Springs benefits downstream water quality and quantity in several important ways: the constant nature of the flow dilutes suspended solids and sediment ; they help preserve Johnson Creek's flow in its lowest mile; and the naturally cool temperature of the flow may offset the negative impact of low summer flows in the watershed by providing a refuge for salmon).

Based on fish sampling data, the City of Portland has established a hypothesis that Johnson Creek, and its tributary, Crystal Springs, support an independent population of listed Columbia River steelhead trout. Portland's sampling work also demonstrates that fish from a number of streams south of Portland are using Crystal Springs during their migratory life cycles. Thus, the canyon project has the potential to provide improved habitat for all salmonids that use the Willamette River, not just the salmonids native to Johnson Creek and Crystal Springs.

Project Goal and Objectives
The goal of this project is to improve wildlife habitat, ensure the water quality of the springs, and provide effective fish passage for salmon and other resident fish species. Program objectives for the first year, (January – December 2001), include:

  • Reestablish the original stream channel and install the fish ladder;
  • Control invasives; native revegetation in Crystal Springs Canyon management unit;
  • Survey, repair and relocate trails in the Crystal Springs Canyon management unit;
  • Establish working partnerships with prospective volunteer organizations;
  • Train work crews;
  • Establish a monitoring and evaluation program for replanted areas;
  • Inform the community about the restoration project and its goals.

Consultants Dennis O'Connor and Kendra Smith have prepared a long-term restoration strategy for the canyon, the Reed College Canyon Enhancement Plan. This strategy meets the qualifications of the Oregon Aquatic Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Guide. The plan divides the canyon into four management units, beginning at the headwaters and proceeding downstream: the upper lake, the middle lake, the lower lake, and Crystal Springs Canyon. It documents the location and extent of invasives and advises removal methods. The design also identifies distinct plant communities within the site and suggests appropriate native species for each.

The focus of the first year will be the Crystal Springs Canyon management unit. This unit was given priority because of the site's potential as a spawning ground for native anadromous and resident fish species. The area measures approximately 300,000 sq. ft. and is a heavily used floodplain of Crystal Springs. Reed Lake lies immediately upstream of the springs, behind a bermed road crossing. In the 1930's, a pool was built in the floodplain and the natural stream alignment was altered. Since then, the spring has been piped under the road and extended 200' downstream, past the swimming pool, before returning to the stream bed. The culvert has been impassable for fish. In September 2000, the College began work on fishway construction and reestablishment of the stream channel. The pool has already been removed. We anticipate completion of this unit in December 2001. The City of Portland, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Division of State Lands, have all visited the site, approved necessary permits and expressed strong support for the project.

Harza Consulting Engineers & Scientists has designed the fishladder and outfall structure as well as a fishladder crossing on the dam crest. The fishladder will be installed by Copenhagen Utilities and Construction. Woody debris will be added to the stream to provide additional fish refuge. A combination of facility maintenance staff, contracted labor, students, neighbors and volunteers will remove the invasive plants and reestablish a riparian edge and upland plant communities using appropriate native species. This portion of the stream will be daylighted to create a better environment for the riparian plantings.

Consultant Dennis O'Connor and Townsend Angell, Director of Facilities Operations are directing the project. Mr. Angell has been with the College for 12 years and worked extensively with urban resource management prior to coming to Reed. He has a certificate from the Watershed Management Professional Program, Executive Leadership Institute, Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University, June 1999. Dennis O'Connor earned a B.S. in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning and Management from the University of California-Davis. He has over 25 years of experience as a landscape designer and restoration ecologist, specializing in stream and wetland enhancement and upland erosion control. He has worked on related restoration projects in the Portland area.

Program Monitoring and Evaluation
Townsend Angell will oversee the monitoring process, with the assistance of student volunteers, and hired contractual labor if needed. The monitoring process will include:

  • the establishment of a set of photo points within each management unit;
  • the creation of a database of site information, including photos and descriptions of the conditions of various locations;
  • annual updates of the site information database;
  • quarterly monitoring of revegetated areas to track progress and prevent reinfestation;
  • observation to determine if salmon and other resident fish species are returning to spawn;
  • ongoing measurement of water temperature;
  • continued observation of the animals, birds, amphibians, and insects found at the site, to monitor the restoration impact.

Since the College's facility staff are on-site, conditions for long-term monitoring, study and stewardship are ideal.

Overall Context
Reed Lake and Crystal Springs are part of the Johnson Creek Watershed, which covers 54-square-miles in the cities of Portland, Boring, and Milwaukie. At one time, the entire length of Johnson Creek supported salmon. Today, this is no longer the case, because of the long-term impact of human activity and development in this largely urban area.

As an urban stream, Johnson Creek represents particular challenges for restoration. However, a growing body of scientific data is providing the basis to move ahead. In 2000, the Portland Multnomah Progress Board released a benchmark report of the watershed, titled, Salmon Restoration in an Urban Watershed: Johnson Creek, Oregon. This document outlines the condition of the watershed and limiting factors for salmon, methods for future measurement of salmon as a benchmark, research about the best practices for improving the benchmark, and the services and programs involved in improving the benchmark.

The City of Portland Parks and Recreation Department has just had an assessment of Crystal Springs Creek fish and wildlife habitat completed. The Parks Department focused on this area, because it felt the significant percentage of public and institutional land ownership and the likelihood of shared goals offered the best opportunity for success. The Parks and Recreation Department is the largest single land manager in the Crystal Springs Creek basin, with four major facilities along the Creek: Johnson Creek Park, Westmoreland Park, Eastmoreland Golf Course, and the Rhododendron Society Gardens. The assessment summarizes the historical and current conditions in this area of the watershed, restoration activities that are underway and proposed, and the potential benefits of these changes. At present, ten restoration projects have been completed, are underway, or are planned , including Reed College's activities.

One of report's findings is that the multiple projects now underway are creating dynamic conditions for fish. This fact was driven home this September, when a cutthroat trout was spotted at one of these project sites: a man-made channel on the Eastmoreland Golf Course linking Crystal Springs Lake and Crystal Springs Creek that was just completed in August. In fact, the report concludes that "Overall, no single project or reach appears to be critical for restoration of Crystal Springs Creek fish habitat. The project assessment analysis indicates that it will likely be necessary to implement a comprehensive suite of projects throughout the basin." The Parks Department hopes to use this report to establish priority projects that might be addressed with assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers.

At the same time, support for restoration is reaching critical mass. On June 27th, 2001, the Portland City Council approved a plan to restore Johnson Creek one neighborhood at a time. The plan will be an essential component of the region's response to the federal listing of threatened species of salmon. The Johnson Creek Watershed Council, which has worked extensively on these issues, has prioritized two areas for action within the next few years: Kelley Creek and Crystal Springs. The College intends to work with the Council on this project, to communicate with others in the watershed about our efforts, and also to recruit volunteers.

In addition to its environmental potential, this project offers a significant opportunities for public education. The canyon is widely used by residents of Westmoreland and the Reed community for passive recreation. It is also a resource for the Portland Public Schools: about 200 public school students visit each year for science courses or field trips. Public education efforts will include press releases to local media; communications with the Portland schools; articles in Reed's quarterly magazine to parents, alumni and friends, Reed Magazine (circulation: 16,000); information on the Reed website; and efforts to coordinate with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council to communicate our results to others in the watershed.


Photos and Videos of the Project

View photos of the restoration process or see a video of the dedication ceremony on the canyon videos page.

View a documentary video that explores the history, ecology, community and educational opportunities of Crystal Springs as it flows to Johnson Creek and out to the sea. Produced by PSU Neighborhood & Watershed Capstone students with assistance from Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services and award-winning film production company Black Dog Art Ensemeble.