Contributed By:

Alex Johnson

Retangling the Willamette River

OPB | July 27, 2011 9:15 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:23 p.m.

None

Allison Frost

The Willamette River looked much different 160 years ago. According to historical mapping (pdf) conducted by Stan Gregory, a researcher at Oregon State, and others, there used to be more islands, more side channels and a more consistent connection between the river and its floodplain. But that “wildness” was largely contained to allow farmers to grow crops closer to the river without fear of flooding. River traffic benefited, too.

Travis Williams, the executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, thinks the Willamette River has become too straight and too simple. He says that it’s time to reconnect the Willamette River with its traditional floodplain. According to Williams, changes would benefit sensitive species by increasing habitat. He says that people can benefit from the changes, too. That’s because increasing the ground area available to a river can mitigate the effects of extreme flooding.

But some farmers with frontage on the Willamette don’t like the idea of retangling the river. Randy Henderson, the owner of Thistledown Farm, says that this will result in lost farmland. And with increasing pressure on farms to give way to development, it’s a sensitive subject.

If the river returned to a more natural state with backwaters and channels, how would it affect you? Would you be willing to sacrifice farmland for floodplains?

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