Johnson Creek Oxbow Restoration Project

Sewer and Stormwater
We are designing a project to restore habitat and reconnect Johnson Creek and Errol Creek with their natural floodplains. This work will help protect endangered salmon, improve water quality, provide habitat for birds and other wildlife, and reduce flood risk in the surrounding neighborhood.
The project is in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin in 2026.
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Bringing Salmon Back

The video below shows juvenile coho salmon trying to swim upstream in Johnson Creek, near the Johnson Creek Oxbow Project site. Human made obstacles like the one in this video make it difficult to impossible for fish to swim upstream. Environmental Services has been helping to bring salmon back to our urban waterways for two decades by replacing human made obstacles with fish friendly logs and boulders.  This project and others throughout Portland will help salmon with their journey.

Human made obstacles like the one in this video make it difficult to impossible for fish to swim upstream. Environmental Services has been working for decades to help bring salmon back to Portland's urban waterways.

Project Area

Map shows the restoration project area on Johnson Creek north of the Springwater Trail and roughly between SE 39th and 46th avenues

General Schedule

This project is in the design phase, which will continue through April 2025. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2026 and should last about six months.

What's Happening Now

The project has reached the 30% design milestone. Much of the design work to date has focused on exploring potential options for how best to reconnect Errol Creek and Johnson Creek. Project designers are also working closely with the Portland Bureau of Transportation and Portland Parks and Recreation on pedestrian access through the project area as well as sidewalk and crossing improvements to improve pedestrian safety along SE 45th Avenue. You may see city staff and work crews visiting the site to conduct field investigations, take water and soil samples, mark utilities, and other activities to help inform the project design. 

Project Background

The Johnson Creek Oxbow Restoration Project is located on Johnson Creek near SE 45th and Harney street.  Environmental Services has identified several significant issues in this area, including flooding, poor water quality, and loss of habitat.  Johnson Creek floods on average every other year and can flood suddenly.  This presents significant risk to nearby properties. 

Johnson Creek is also one of the last free-flowing streams in the Portland area and provides important habitat for coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout. While these species still exist in Johnson Creek and its tributaries, their long-term survival depends on our ability to restore habitat and improve water quality.  

The Johnson Creek Oxbow Restoration Project is part of a broad city effort to improve habitat conditions and reduce the impacts of flooding along Johnson Creek. It will build upon four previous restoration projects in the area: Tideman-Johnson (2006), Errol Heights Wetlands (2007), Errol Creek Confluence (2009), and the Johnson Creek Oxbow Scour Repair (2019). These efforts to restore Johnson Creek focus on returning it to a more natural state. 

The central feature of the site is the namesake “oxbow” meander — a U-shaped bend — of Johnson Creek. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a channel to connect the southern ends of this oxbow, forming a small island in the middle. The WPA project included rock walls along the banks of the channel and a concrete fish ladder.   

The rock wall was meant to control flooding. Unfortunately, it disconnected the nearby wetlands and floodplains.  Water can no longer spread out and soak into the ground, and instead can overflow the banks and flow into nearby homes and businesses. The WPA project ended up making flooding worse and more destructive. 

By removing the rock walls of the channel and restoring the natural floodplains, this restoration project will give space for floodwaters to spread across natural areas and soak into the ground.  This will reduce the impact of flooding to nearby homes and businesses. It also helps improve water quality and increases habitat for birds, fish, and other wildlife. 

What are project Goals? 

The project has the following goals: 

  • Reconnect Johnson Creek to its natural floodplain  
  • Reduce temperatures in the creek to give fish access to cool clean water they need to thrive  
  • Improve water quality by treating stormwater before it reaches the creek 
  • Remove the existing fish ladder so fish (especially salmon) can move upstream   
  • Create calm “backwater” areas where salmon and other native species can rest
  • Improving fish passage in Errol Creek under SE 45th

We Want to Hear from You

Environmental Services will inform residents and businesses about project activities and respond to questions and concerns in a timely manner. The following resources will help you stay informed and report concerns: