Healthy streams advocate Salmon-Safe has recertified the Oregon Convention Center for its commitment to reducing polluted runoff to the Willamette River.
The Portland-based nonprofit Salmon-Safe works with public and private landowners to promote reduced water use, onsite stormwater treatment, and protection of water quality. Properties like OCC are certified as Salmon-Safe for extensive efforts to halt runoff from entering streams and impacting imperiled salmon.
“OCC is consistently highly engaged in looking for the most ecologically responsible solutions for its site,” Kent said. “And being a stone’s throw from the Willamette, actions on their site can have a profound impact on the river.”
In the certification letter Salmon-Safe presented to OCC, Salmon-Safe’s independent expert team highlighted the center’s largely pesticide-free campus, its large water-filtering rain garden, and the 2011 construction of its environmentally innovative events plaza.
Matt Uchtman, OCC’s director of operations, said Salmon-Safe’s rigorous guidelines give the center the opportunity to set industry standards for sustainability.
“Working with Salmon-Safe helps us to look at the whole picture,” Uchtman said. “What we have is a checks and balances relationship that lets us know we’re doing the right thing and that our contractors are living up to the expectations we’ve set forth.”
For a facility the area of 10 city blocks, OCC contracts landscaping services for grounds keeping. With help from Salmon-Safe’s guidelines, Uchtman works directly with landscapers to ensure the property is maintained with least-toxic chemicals. Quarterly soil testing reduces the use of fertilizers, and if a certain product is required, Uchtman contacts Salmon-Safe for a list of alternatives.
In 2003, the landscaping along the building’s south side underwent a transformation into a 318-foot rain garden. Water from 5.5 acres of OCC’s roof is channeled into pools of varying height along the garden, where plants tease out contaminates and debris.
But OCC’s new outdoor events space was perhaps most impressive to Salmon-Safe.
Constructed with pervious surfaces, native plantings and two bioswales, rainwater travels throughout the plaza, is cooled and filtered before moving to storm sewers. And thanks to OCC’s stringent tracking of water use, the addition of the plaza has not raised its overall water consumption since its first certification.
Along with requiring Uchtman’s staff to log water and chemical use, Kent says the real test of sustainability comes from an onsite evaluation. Every five years, during the recertification process, a group of experts in the fields of salmon health, pest management and stormwater treatment tour the site.
“That’s the single largest difference between us and most other programs,” said Kent “We focus on site evaluation with an expert team. It’s not a process of the landowner submitting a lot of documents for us to read over – it’s a team on the ground looking for proactive steps a facility can take to reduce watershed impacts.”
Very pleased with the strides OCC is making in its mission for sustainability, Uchtman is already looking ahead. Soon, the center will begin evaluating options for treating rainwater on the center’s north side.
Those plans could include more rain gardens or another bioswale.
“We’re definitely more focused and aware of the impacts that we can have as a business,” Uchtman said. “The difference we can make by doing small things everywhere demonstrates our commitment to overall sustainability.”
OCC was one of the first urban sites and the first convention center ever to receive Salmon-Safe certification in 2007.
Stephanie Soden, Metro Venues