Saving Our Rivers, One Raindrop at a Time

“I get questions about the planter almost every time I’m out there. It walks our talk.”

Ken Popper, Senior Conservation Planner for the Conservancy in Oregon.

By Savannah Naffziger

Inspiration comes from all sorts of places. For Ken Popper, it’s the memory of Oren Pollak. Nearly 30 years ago, Pollak inspired him with a love of the environment. They ended up working for The Nature Conservancy in different states, and eventually Pollak moved to Portland to work for the Oregon program.

Tragically, Pollak passed away in a motor vehicle accident soon after. Ever since, Popper, now the Conservancy’s senior conservation planner in Oregon, has been quietly working to honor issues Pollak championed—like green infrastructure.

Walk the Talk

This spring Popper and his team completed a year-long project—building a stormwater planter at the Conservancy’s Portland office. What’s a stormwater planter?

  • It’s a ground-level structure that captures water runoff.
  • It has a dirt base, concrete sides, and is planted with local, native vegetation. 
  • This one will keep about 100,000 gallons of rainwater a year from going into the sewer system and potentially contributing to sewer overflows into rivers and other waterways.
  • So it keeps rivers cleaner. And water too—the soil and the plants are natural filters that impact water quality.

See our slideshow for more!

The planter’s benefits are obvious, and they’re a teaching moment for everyone, including passers-by. “I get questions about the planter almost every time I’m out there. It walks our talk,” said Popper.

A Community Effort

While The Nature Conservancy normally works in areas measured in acres and miles, this project fits into a space the size of two parking spots, end to end. The 43 foot long by 8 foot wide concrete box abuts the building’s south parking lot, replacing a chain linked fence.

Construction of the planter began after more than a year of planning, testing, locating funding, and applying for permits. Large machinery arrived. Contractors dug in, poured concrete into a very large mold, and filled it in with layers of gravel, dirt and native plants.

At least twenty volunteers and staff worked on the project—from digging test holes, to helping select the appropriate plants, to attending a work party to plant everything.

For Deanna Brown, the Conservancy’s Oregon finance administrator, planting was an opportunity to get outside the office and get her hands dirty. “The planting was more hands-on than my normal job. One of my earliest experiences with the Conservancy was volunteering as a naturalist, but nowadays I’m pretty much sitting at my computer most of the day,” Brown said. “Helping with this project was a great way to connect directly to nature again.”

 A Network of Solutions

The planter is not a lone project. A network of stormwater systems is developing in cities in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Portland, Seattle, Vancouver B.C., Eugene, Spokane, and other cities and counties across the Pacific Northwest are creating green stormwater infrastructure, as was recently described in Banking on Green, a report on stormwater solutions.
  • In Portland alone, stormwater efforts can help keep an estimated 3 billion gallons of water—that’s about 4,500 Olympic sized swimming pools—out of the sewer system every year, according to the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services. This helps reduce the likelihood of the sewer overflowing into our rivers.
  • We all know that the Willamette Valley gets a lot of rain. Portland averages 37 inches of rain a year which is critical to things like drinking water, agricultural uses and healthy rives.

And this planter isn’t the Conservancy’s first green undertaking, either. Take our solar panel awnings, for instance. Recycling and composting. Or the low flow faucets. Or encouraging alternative transportation. The Oregon Conservancy even has a Green Team—employees who lead these efforts. Yes, Popper’s a member.

The Nature Conservancy thanks the following partners for supporting the stormwater project: East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Mahonia Vineyards and Nursery, Metro’s Native Plant Center, the City of Portland, Sustainable Adaptations, Ted’s Excavation, Conservancy staff, and contributions from members of the Conservancy.

Ashland Watershed

Protect What You Love

Forests, Rivers, Lakes, Mountains and the Ocean—they're what make Oregon great. 


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