On Tuesday January 26, students from Lewis & Clark's ENVS 330 (Situating Environmental Problems and Solutions) class took a reconnaissance trip to the Columbia Slough in northeast Portland. We started at the upper portion of the Slough east of Portland airport, an area marked by recent expansion of warehousing. Here they are next to a channel of the upper Slough.
Interestingly, there was another event scheduled at the very site we initially parked: the launch of a large photovoltaic array to power pumps for municipal groundwater supply, dubbed "Solar on the Slough."
Our second stop was at the headquarters location of the Multnomah County Drainage District, the main entity responsible for maintaining water in the Slough at acceptable levels -- a big challenge since the Slough is a floodplain and much of the land lies at or below the level of the Columbia River. Historically, floods on the Slough have resulted in tragedies such as the obliteration of Vanport; today, given the huge economic output of the Slough, keeping water levels under control is an imperative. Here we are taking a look at the large levees separating the upper Slough, basically a hydrological bathtub, from the lower Slough, which is open to the Willamette River and tidal influence.
It was a bit cold for swimming, so no takers -- though later on this semester we hope to go kayaking in the Slough and explore its habitat in more detail.
Our next stop was the former site of Vanport, a bustling wartime shipbuilder development that reached 40,000 at its peak, yet in the late 1940s was obliterated when spring rains breached a levee nearby. This portion of Vanport is now a golf course -- another common form of land use in the Slough. The significant questions of race/class/risk around Vanport are now confined to small signs such as this one en route to the golf course.
For our final stop, we headed to the northwest corner of the Slough, now Kelly Point Park. As you can tell, we enjoyed a (temporary) bit of rain! Note also the uniform growth of trees, suggesting that this natural space may be mingled with a history of human transformation.
Here we are where the Willamette River (to the left) meets the Columbia (in the upper background). Can you imagine the Lewis & Clark expedition missed noticing the Willamette River not once but twice??
Relaxing for a bit at the mouth of the Willamette River, with Sauvie Island in the background.
A few intrepid students wanted to find the actual mouth of the Slough as it empties into the Willamette: here it is toward the upper left, with the industrial docks of the Willamette immediately behind.
On our way our, a final glimpse at the neighbor of Kelly Point Park: a ginormous Hyundai facility, an ocean of cars. The Columbia Slough is this complex mix of industry, habitat, and hydrology: situating environmental problems and solutions here means coming to terms with its hybrid nature.