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Tualatin SWCD seeks first-time levy

Streamside work, erosion prevention are goals in Washington County.

Advocates say that all of Washington County, Oregon’s second most populous, would benefit from a small tax request by the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District on the Nov. 8 countywide ballot.

The request is for 9 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, about $21.60 on a home assessed at $240,000.

The district is one of four in the Portland area — and one of 45 statewide — that works to prevent soil erosion and protect streamsides.

“Clean water and healthy soil apply throughout the county,” said John McDonald of Hillsboro, district board chairman. The benefits of healthy soil are many, and apply to urban and rural lands.”

Districts work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which fund them through grants. The federal agency began in the 1930s as the Soil Conservation Service under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Washington County voters rejected a 2004 request by the district, which has no levy. But McDonald said today’s circumstances are more urgent and go beyond helping farmers and forest landowners, the groups that traditionally benefit from soil conservation measures.

Based in Hillsboro, the Tualatin district oversees about 70 planting projects along the Tualatin River in cooperation with landowners and Clean Water Services, the independent agency that treats wastewater and returns it to the river.

The projects aim at filtering excess nutrients, preventing soil erosion, providing habitat for wildlife, and offering shade to cool the water for fish and other aquatic life.

“They are an extremely cost-effective way to get multiple benefits,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the levy would enable the district to expand streamside protection by selecting suitable sites for contractors to plant and maintain appropriate trees and vegetation.

“It is important for us to do everything we can in those areas to keep pollutants from getting into the water and keep soil from being eroded,” he said.

“We must make sure that the lower reaches of the river are as clean and as cool as we can possibly keep them, and require the least amount of processing to make the water drinkable.”

Similar projects are occurring at McKay Creek near Hillsboro and around the county, and McDonald said the levy would enable the work to expand beyond the Tualatin River.

Although more than half the projected levy would go toward expanded streamside work, McDonald said the district also has pledged to improve farmland, even as Washington County’s population continues to grow.

“We are going to have fewer acres to grow products and endure whatever damage we might have from climate changes of heavy rains and long dry periods,” he said.

The district also offers limited education and training for landowners to identify and manage invasive weeds. McDonald said education about the value of soil and water should be extended to school children and other residents of the county.

“We have to prepare the next generation to take care of the things we are concerned about today,” he said. “Without doing that, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

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