East Portland students keep tabs on Johnson Creek’s health

Can kids make a real difference to help improve this important East Portland waterway? Take a look and see what they’re doing …

Zac Holgate is up to his hips in Johnson Creek, taking bottom samples.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In keeping with the theme of Earth Day a few weeks before their outing, Cleveland High School’s Northwest Ecology instructor Kimberly Crowell’s students were busily evaluating the health of Johnson Creek.

At their test site, Johnson Creek Park at SE 21st Avenue & Clatsop Street, students were measuring plant life, checking the creek bank, and taking water samples and bottom samples from the creek.

The beauty of this program,” Crowell explained, “is that students get to put the scientific skills they learned the classroom to practical use.”

Scott Rivera and Joaquin Dollar are measuring the amount of dissolved oxygen in a sample of Johnson Creek water.

Immersed in education
CHS 11th grader Zac Holgate was up to his hips in the Johnson Creek test project – literally. “Putting on hip-waders and going into the creek – collecting specimens – is really pretty interesting,” he smiled.

Holgate explained he was using a net hoping to scoop up micro-invertebrates. “More than reading about it in a book, or seeing a video, this helped me really understand the world we live in better.”

On the creek bank, Nathan Sany, also a junior, looked through material Holgate dredged from the creek bed, and found a small egg. “You have to be able to assess problems in nature to be able to fix them, and make a real difference.”

Sany added, “Nature is around us, and part of our lives, even if we live in the city. We take pride in good ecology. As an Oregonian, wanting a good environment is just part of me.”

Nathan Sany examines an egg found in the creek.

Project director helps out
Mary Ann Schmidt, Director of the Student Watershed Research Project (SWRP), was helping students test water for ammonia when she stopped to talk with us.

“The program works in partnership with high schools and their students,” Schmidt explained. “We monitor watersheds throughout the Portland metropolitan area. We train teachers on how to test for different chemical parameters.”

The measurements are both scientific and rigorous, Schmidt noted. “We test for dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and temperature, and we look at nutrients in the water. This helps us determine and document the health of the water.”

SWRP, Schmidt added, is a self-supporting program of Portland State University’s Environmental Sciences and Resources Department. “The program is done in cooperation with the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. The students are part of a program called ‘Youth Engaged’. In addition to monitoring, they also have a site where they do restoration on this part of their watershed.”

Cleveland High’s Northwest Ecology instructor, Kimberly Crowell, examines at a water sample being tested to determine the level of ammonia in the creek water.

Creek is getting healthier
When we asked about the health of Johnson Creek, Crowell replied that there has been little change during the eight months of their study. “But, our students have contrasted its current condition with historical data. Compared to where Johnson Creek was the 1970s, the quality of the water is incredibly better.”

Beyond the scientific education students receive, Crowell said that there’s another important benefit from the program. “Students tend to ‘fall in love’ with this site under their care. This can lead toward an attitude of natural stewardship that will extend way beyond Johnson Creek Park into the total environment in which they live.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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