A Changing Watershed

The Tualatin River watershed has undergone incredible change in a short amount of time.

The Portland metro area has been and continues to be the homelands to Multnomah, Wasco, Cowlitz, Kathlamet, Clackamas, Bands of Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapuya, Molalla, and many other tribes since time immemorial. They live throughout the region and maintain a reciprocal relationship to the lands and waters based on thousands of years of observation.

The Tualatin Band of Kalapuya (also known as the Atfalati, Twalaty, Twalatin, Quality, Tualaty, or Twalati) inhabited the entirety of Washington County and their most valued homeland was at Wapato Lake, near modern day Gaston. Their descendants live on as Tribal members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde, carrying on the traditions and cultures of their ancestors, the original people of this land.

Grand Ronde Tribal members planting wapato bulbs at Wapato Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Photo Courtesy Timothy J. Gonzalez, Smoke Signals.

Many tribes have distinct languages and cultures, but a common thread among them is reverence of the places they rely on for physical and cultural vitality. They carefully stewarded these places to promote balanced, healthy ecosystems using prescribed burning, intentional planting, and deliberate harvesting. Their traditions and cultures have been passed down through generations and live on today.

As with most of the tribes and bands of western Oregon, disease epidemics brought by Euro-Americans devastated the populations of these peoples. Survivors were forcibly and inhumanely removed from their lands by early settlers. Despite a history wrought with traumatic experiences, there are strong tribal communities who continue to care for the lands that nourish us all.

As the makeup of the population of the watershed has changed, so has the watershed. Prior to colonization, a network of stream channels drifted in many directions with fallen trees and beaver dams controlling the flow of the water. Colonization led to the trapping of beaver and the draining of wetlands for agriculture and development. Wood was pulled from creeks to get logs to market, and to allow small steamboats to travel along the Tualatin River from Oswego Lake to Forest Grove. Creeks and streams were reduced to a single, sometimes straight, channel. This made the water flowing through the watershed move faster, causing erosion, reducing wildlife habitat, and increasing water pollution.

Today, many groups are working together to enhance our shared waterways and natural spaces. Learn more about how Tree for All partners in Washington County have restored 30,000 acres and 140 miles of river.