Habitat conditions in the lower Willamette River Superfund site may be closer to restoration for salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council, which is responsible for restoring natural resources injured by contamination in the Portland Harbor Superfund site, has released its draft Restoration Plan and Environmental Impact Statement www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Contaminants/PortlandHarbor/ for public comment.
The harbor area provides critical habitat for juvenile chinook salmon to rest, feed, and rear in preparation for entry into the lower Columbia River estuary. Chinook salmon are present almost year round in the lower Willamette River.
The Portland Harbor is located on the lower Willamette River just above the confluence with the Columbia River.
Portland Harbor is a highly urbanized river environment. The harbor serves the commercial shipping industry and contains many industrial and commercial facilities, as well as private and municipal stormwater and wastewater outfalls. It is the primary depositional area of the Willamette River system.
Waters within the Portland Harbor are listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency listed Portland Harbor as a National Priority in 2000 due to elevated concentrations of polychlorinated byphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dicholoro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) and other pesticides, heavy metals, semi-volatile organic compounds, and other contaminants.
Despite extensive industrial development and mixed habitat quality in the Portland Harbor, a wide variety of fish species rely on the area as a corridor for upstream and downstream movement, and for breeding, foraging and rearing young.
The area serves as a critical migration corridor for juvenile and adult chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon.
All ESA-listed Willamette River salmon and steelhead must pass through Portland Harbor as juveniles on their way to the ocean and as adults returning to spawn.
Some Columbia River salmon species, such as chum salmon, also use the Willamette River as a migration and rearing corridor.
In addition, bald eagles, osprey, mink, river otters and other wildlife use the river for foraging, rearing their young, and as a corridor to move between habitats.
“Habitat restoration in the lower Willamette River is a critical piece of the puzzle to restoring dwindling populations of native fish species,” says Silas Whitman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.
The Portland Harbor is considered the most habitat-limited portion of the lower Willamette River for ESA-listed juvenile chinook salmon.
Release of the draft restoration plan is a “huge step along the path towards restoring injured natural resources in and around Portland Harbor,” says Tom Downey, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians representative.
Discharges and releases of hazardous substances and oil into the harbor area have resulted from industrial and municipal activities since the early 1900s. Facilities released hazardous material and oil through spills, permitted and nonpermitted discharges, stormwater runoff from contaminated soils at upland facilities, and discharges of contaminated groundwater. Other releases into the Willamette River from land use activities upstream of the area contributed to contamination in the harbor area.
The restoration plan states that resident time studies on juvenile chinook salmon at four locations in the harbor and an upstream reference site indicate that subyearlings spend sufficient time rearing in Portland Harbor to bioaccumulate compounds at concentrations that can impact their growth and maturation.
For example, PCB concentrations in subyearling salmon from Portland Harbor exceed values that can cause adverse effects, and PAHs in prey items and whole-body tissues threaten their immune system function, growth, and long-term survival.
In addition, the lower Willamette River floodplain, especially the Portland Harbor area, has been modified by filling and development of industrial facilities. The river reach is almost completely disconnected from its floodplain, and many ecosystem processes are severely impaired.
Alterations to the channel’s edge further limit availability of nearshore shallow water habitats.
The natural resources of Portland Harbor are of ecological, social, economic, and tribal importance, say those involved in the restoration.
“As part of our traditional homelands, the Portland Harbor region is critical to the preservation of our traditional practices. The native plants, salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey must be free from contaminants and have healthy living environments. We rely on them for subsistence and ceremony,” said Greg Archuleta, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Bobby Brunoe, Natural Resources general manager for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, agreed: “We are excited about the opportunities to restore fish and wildlife habitats on the lower Willamette River. These natural resources are very important to the tribes and all Oregonians.”
The draft restoration plan proposes an integrated habitat restoration approach focusing on projects that will benefit multiple fish and wildlife species potentially injured by contaminants in Portland Harbor.
The draft restoration plan describes the Trustee Council’s priorities for locating and designing these restoration projects within Portland Harbor and surrounding areas, as well as the scientific bases for these priorities.
The Trustee Council’s top priorities are restoration of off-channel and shallow water habitats.
Shorelines and riparian zones, especially those adjoining off-channel habitat and contiguous upland habitats, are also targeted habitat priorities. These areas have the ability to support fish and wildlife as well as provide ecological functions, such as filtering runoff and providing sources of organic material inputs.
Preferred restoration projects would improve or create off-channel habitat, restore floodplain connectivity, reestablish native floodplain and riparian plant communities, restore natural shorelines by removing fill or riprap, and improve upland habitat and connectivity.
The plan also highlights types of recreational restoration opportunities that could be implemented to offset recreational losses caused by contamination.
The Trustee Council will host two public meetings to present the plan and gather public comments:
-- Tuesday, July 17, St. Johns Community Center, 8427 N. Central St., Portland, Ore. 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
-- Thursday, Aug, 2, Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 238, 1719 SW 10th Ave. Portland, Ore. 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The plan, public meeting information, and other materials can be found on the Trustee Council’s website www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Contaminants/PortlandHarbor/