What is a Watershed Council?

Watershed Councils are grassroots community groups comprised of citizens who want to help protect, restore and enhance the local watershed where they live, work, and play. They are locally organized, voluntary, non-regulatory organizations, and are intended to be broadly representative of the stakeholders in their respective areas.

The 1995 Oregon legislature passed legislation that provided guidance in establishing watershed councils. According to the state statute, a watershed council is “…a voluntary local organization designated by a local government group convened by a county governing body to address the goal of sustaining natural resource and watershed protection and enhancement within a watershed.”

One of the important points of that definition is that designating a watershed council is a local government decision for which no state approval is required. It is also important to note that, though they are designated by a local government entity, watershed councils are not government entities.

The Johnson Creek Watershed Council is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, although not all Watershed Councils are nonprofit organizations.

A portion of our funding comes from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board is a small state agency created by the legislature and funded principally with State Lottery funds and federal Pacific Salmon and Coastal Recovery funds to implement the programs and policies of the Oregon Plan. The Oregon Plan is a comprehensive program for the protection and recovery of species and for the restoration of watersheds throughout this state. The Oregon Plan combines the regulatory and other actions of state and federal agencies and local governments with voluntary restoration by private landowners and others. For more information on the Oregon Plan, see this brochure.

To learn more about the other Watershed Councils in Oregon, see the Network of Oregon Watershed Councils.

History of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council

In the mid-1980s, a small grassroots group called the Friends of Johnson Creek (also known as the Johnson Creek Marching Band) began leading tours of Johnson Creek, highlighting it as a community asset. It was the first time that any group had portrayed Johnson Creek in a positive light publicly. For years, Johnson Creek had been known primarily as a degraded eyesore that frequently flooded. Several government agencies had tried unsuccessfully to solve the flooding problems, prescribing top-down engineering solutions, which were met with resistance, if not outright hostility from local residents, who felt that government was forcing a costly solution on them without their input.

In 1990, the City of Portland began convening multiple agencies and citizen stakeholders to develop a Johnson Creek Resource Management Plan (RMP). The Johnson Creek Corridor Committee (JCCC), as the coalition was called, met monthly for almost five years before publishing the RMP in 1995. Unlike previous failed planning efforts, the JCCC insisted that both government agencies and citizens groups begin working on early enhancement projects and public education programs, even before planning was finished. These early projects were critical in overcoming more than forty years of inertia and began building a culture of creek stewardship that today is one of the core strengths of the Johnson Creek Watershed Council. They also were an important tool to identify and engage the many and diverse types of community interests in Johnson Creek. Previous planning efforts had made the mistake of treating Johnson Creek stakeholders as uniform, with flooding as their sole concern.

One of the key recommendations made during Resource Management Planning was that a permanent group be formed to provide continued leadership, fostering the nascent stewardship ethic in the watershed. The Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC) is this permanent group that grew out of the Johnson Creek Corridor Committee. Its first meeting as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council was in 1995.

The timing of JCWC’s formation was fortuitous as it coincided with the statewide establishment of watershed councils and the development of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. One of the key features of the Oregon Plan is its focus on voluntary restoration actions rather than regulatory mechanisms to achieve endangered species recovery and watershed health. It is predicated on a spirit of volunteerism and stewardship and the belief that it takes local knowledge of problems and a local sense of ownership to achieve long-term watershed health. Another key tenet of the Oregon Plan is that healthy watersheds support the economy and quality of life of Oregon.

Timeline of significant dates:

1984 – Friends of Johnson Creek / Johnson Creek Marching Band formed.

1990 – Johnson Creek Corridor Committee (JCCC) formed.

1995 – Johnson Creek Resources Management Plan approved by the JCCC and formally adopted by various watershed jurisdictions.

May 3, 1995 – First meeting after renaming as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council (JCWC).

1995 – Fiscal agent agreement signed between JCWC and East Multnomah SWCD.

1995 – Oregon House Bill 3441 passed, providing guidance for forming watershed councils as locally organized, voluntary, non-regulatory groups.

1996 – JCWC Watershed Coordinator hired (first paid staff) with funding from the Governor’s Watershed Enhancement Board, City of Portland, and City of Gresham.

1997 – The Oregon Plan for Watersheds and Salmon placed into statute by the Oregon State Legislature.

2001 – JCWC designated a (501(c)3) tax exempt organization by the IRS.

2011 – JCWC has six paid staff, three full-time and three part-time.