You are here


Lower Willamette Watershed

Johnson Creek

One day I was just walking the bank "...I don't even know if I was fishing, but right at the mouth of Kelly Creek that runs into Johnson...I was just standing there and there's kind of a, oh about a three foot just kind of little pocket in the creek there. And all of a sudden I seen some splashing in the water and all of a sudden a silver went and beached itself up on the sandbar there, and little female mink had a hold of it and was dragging it up on the bank. Yeah as soon as she saw me, she let go and it flopped back into the creek.
     --David Schwitzer interviewed by Jake Lancaster, 1999

In spite of extreme habitat alterations and pervasive long-term invasion by non-native fish species across the region, native species still remain in Johnson Creek. The creek flows 26 miles from its headwaters near the Sandy River to its confluence with the Willamette River, passing through four cities (Gresham, Portland, Milwaukie, and Happy Valley) and two counties (Clackamas and Multnomah) along the way.

The Johnson Creek Watershed is comprised of several smaller watersheds. These tributaries include Kelley Creek, Crystal Springs, Sunshine Creek, Butler Creek, Veterans Creek, and Badger Creek.

The Johnson Creek Watershed is 54 square miles in area. 54% of the watershed is residential, 33% is rural, 8% is commercial/industrial, and 5% is parks and open space.

Johnson Creek is polluted with e. Coli bacteria, DDT, Dieldrin, high temperatures and other toxins. It is not safe to drink or play in. The creek flow on a typical summer day is about 1cfs.

Historically, salmon runs in Johnson Creek helped feed Clackamas Indians, as well as the farmers and others who settled here later. There are stories told of salmon runs so plentiful the fish could be caught with a pitchfork. This is not the case today. From tens of thousands of fish spawning in Johnson Creek 150 years ago, Johnson Creek's fish population has dropped to 17 Chinook, 5 Coho, 101 Cutthroat, and only one Steelhead/Rainbow trout, according to the 2001-2002 Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department Spawning Surveys and Fish Inventories.

A fish salvage project conducted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the City of Portland in 2006 showed that there are probably more threatened and sensitive species in Johnson Creek than existing monitoring information suggests.

Portland State University has a website about the history of Johnson Creek, and issues surrounding the creek.

Reed College Canyon. The Reed Canyon provides 26 acres of high quality wildlife habitat in the midst of the city and has been identified in the Johnson Creek Basin Protection Plan as "the only naturally occurring pond (or lake) remaining in the inner-city area."

Sauvie Island

At the mouth of the Willamette River sits Sauvie Island. It is 16.5 miles long and 6.5 miles wide. At 26,000 acres, it is the largest island along the Columbia River and is also the largest non-delta river island on earth. Sauvie Island contains it own rivers, sloughs, lakes, and even its own islands. Sauvie Island was named after Laurent Sauvé, a French-Canadian employee of the Hudson's Bay Company, who had settled on the island to operate the Hudson's Bay dairy farm. The northern 12,000 acres of Sauvie Island is a wildlife area managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and provides feeding and resting area for bald eagles, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, and black-tailed deer. Over 150,000 ducks and geese use the area during fall migration.


Johnson Creek Watershed Council

USGS Johnson Creek site

State of the Watershed Report . Johnson Creek Watershed Council.

Our Community Partner: Johnson Creek Watershed Council Profile. Portland State University.

Compiled by John Ame, Science Writer (2007)