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(Editor’s note: Lynn Barlow of Portland Parks and Bob Dolphin of Owens-Illinois — both members of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC) board — plus Jennifer Sutter from DEQ, will attend our neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, August 16 to discuss Johnson Lake.)

Ever heard of Johnson Lake? A lot of newer Sumner neighborhood residents in NE Portland have not. But as the only natural area in our parkless neighborhood, it poses a real opportunity.

Arial view of Johnson Lake
Caption: Arial view of Johnson Lake (source: DEQ)

It’s easy to miss Johnson Lake. It sits directly behind the Owens-Illinois (O-I) glass factory at the northwest corner of NE Killingsworth Ave and I-205. About 3/4 of its shoreline is O-I property. The northeast lake shoreline is a Portland Parks Dept natural area, which includes a walking path.

How to get there: The easiest access point by car is at the east end of NE Colfax St in the Airport Business Park.

Ground level view of Johnson Lake
Caption: Ground level view of Johnson Lake (source: BES)

A brief overview and history
Johnson Lake is part of the Columbia Slough watershed. It feeds Whitaker Slough, which feeds into the Columbia Slough, and from there into the Columbia River.

According to its Portland Parks and Recreation page, Johnson Lake used to be a very popular place. Specifically, in the 1930s and 1940s, the lake had boat rentals, a beach house and a dance hall.

More recently, the lake has been designated as an environmental cleanup site by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). They’ve been working with Owens-illinois, and others, to improve the lake. Sediment sampling has indicated the presence of PCBs, metals, petroleum, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the lake. PCBs have also been detected in the tissue of fish collected from the lake.

Whitaker Slough
Caption: Whitaker Slough just north of Johnson Lake (source: BES)

The lake cleanup order
A consent judgment and record of decision were reached in 2007. They amounted to a plan of action to dredge part of the lake and to confine the dredged sediment away from the lake on the O-I property.

The decision of record was amended in 2009. The new plan was based on new testing done by O-I in preparation to implement the previous consent judgment. The new tests found that hot spots of contaminants were less intense and more dispersed than shown by earlier testing. So, instead, the new plan calls for a “thin layer cap” of six inches of sand to be placed on most of the lake bed.

Some work was done by O-I with DEQ oversight last summer, but more is expected to be done late this summer and fall.

Johnson Lake natural area trail head
Caption: Johnson Lake natural area trail head at NE Colfax St (source: BES)

What Sumner neighbors can do
The June 2011 meeting of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council (CSWC) was held at the O-I ‘clubhouse’ on Johnson Lake. After the meeting. attendees strolled part of the lake and talked about its restoration. Despite the contamination — fishing and swimming are not allowed — wildlife can be seen at the lake, including beavers, hawks and herons.

In the past, Portland Parks partnered with nearby neighbors (see the Mid-County Memo article below) to make some improvements to the natural area. Trees were planted, garbage picked up, and even a few benches were sited.

Most of the property around the lake is private O-I land, so we need to partner with them, if we want to perform an ongoing role in helping to mind Johnson Lake. For example, homeless camps stacked with debris have been an intermittent issue, and cleanup might be easier for O-I with our help.

Likewise, we could do twice yearly cleanups around the lake with grant funding from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District and the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES). CSWC, SOLV and other groups could be ready partners if we want to step up.

More background


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  2. Pingback: August 2011 meeting notes: Johnson Lake, its past and future, plus some updates

  3. Actually, if you check out the watershed website, you’ll find that the waters of Johnson Lake are cleaner than they’ve been for 100 years!! That’s much longer than the ban on on fishing and swimming has been around–which I think dates to mid-century at most. And if you’d actually been to the place, you would know how beautiful it is, how you can see birds there that are completely absent only blocks away, and how the bones of the once beautiful park that was Johnson lake still show a little elegance.

  4. Patrick Richardson

    How can you call a toxic pond a gem. The whole of the Columbia slough is a toxic superfund site or might as well be. The fish are so full of mercury you could use their blood for an old fashioned thermometer. I hate to be negative about this but the slough area all the way down to I-5 and past has been toxic since I was little and I see very little improvement after 40 years.

  5. Pingback: » News Links for August 4th, 2011 through August 8th, 2011 ParkroseGateway.com

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