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MHCC's new swales and rain gardens will provide cleaner rain runoff, improve stream health

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Workers carve out raingardens and swales in an earlier phase of construction on Mt. Hood Community College parking lots. The last phase will start Monday, Aug. 5. Mt. Hood Community College is ramping up the final phase of making its parking lots greener and safer for streams and salmon.

The multi-year project is part of a program to filter runoff and enhance water quality and habitat on the college's Gresham campus.

"By changing a small area of the parking lots in front of MHCC, the college is taking big strides toward watershed health and salmon recovery in Beaver Creek and the Sandy River," Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Watershed Council, said in a statement.

MHCC, the Sandy River Watershed Council and other partners will start the last stage of construction on Monday, Aug. 5, and it should be completed the week of Sept. 17.

Funded by local and regional grants, a series of engineered rain gardens, swales, and stormwater filtering planters will capture and clean millions of gallons of rainfall from parking lots G and H, at the north edge of the campus entrance.

The swales and gardens will cleanse the runoff from the parking lots before it enters Beaver and Kelly creeks, which meet on campus. Beaver Creek is home to populations of wild salmon and other aquatic natives and is an area that supports wild salmon recovery in the Sandy River basin.

The latest project is the next step in a long-term plan to reduce pollution carried by rainfall from MHCC's 57 acres of so-called hardscape, including buildings, parking lots and walkways.

The first phase of parking lot improvements in lots E and F were finished during 2018, with landscaping occurring in the winter of 2019.

The college says that the newly-installed environmentally-friendly infrastructure, which uses natural drainage to reduce unfiltered runoff into nearby creeks, covers just 4% of the lots' impervious area, but each year will cleanse almost all those lots' stormwater, about four million gallons, and remove about 3,000 pounds of pollutants.

Every year, rainfall across MHCC's buildings and paved areas had sent an average of 60 million gallons of untreated runoff directly through stormwater pipes into Beaver and Kelly creeks, which meet downstream of the Kelly Creek pond and dam.

The project is part of the college's commitment to become "Salmon Safe" — making it the first community college in the country to earn the designation.

"The Salmon Safe collaboration is helping MHCC serve as a learning laboratory for sustainable water management and water quality science," Wise said.

MHCC achieved the Salmon Safe designation in 2016. The five-year Salmon Safe plan identified a range of improvements to buildings, parking lots and other hardscape on campus, prioritizing strategies to intercept the stormwater, while engaging the public and campus community in efforts to improve water quality and habitat.

"Through this partnership we have been able to leverage outside funds to improve and protect the incredible natural resources found on campus for students and the community to enjoy," Doug Schleichert, project coordinator and lead maintenance mechanic at MHCC said in a statement.

MHCC's partners on the project include the Sandy River Watershed Council, the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, the city of Gresham, Metro regional government, Salmon Safe, Depave and the Spirit Mountain Community Fund, a grant making organization of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. More than $1 million in grants and in-kind contributions support the project and include funds from EMSWCD, Metro's Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant program, the city of Gresham, SMCF, and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

To learn more about the project visit: sandyriver.org/projects/mhcc-salmon-safe-projects.


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