Politicians and environmental advocates mingled outside Epler Hall last Friday as Portland State celebrated its status as the nation’s first “salmon safe” college campus.
The certification, bestowed by Portland nonprofit Salmon Safe, represents PSU’s efforts to help salmon “spawn and thrive” by contributing clean water to the urban watershed.
“As salmon migrate through the Willamette system, the activities that Portland State is taking on will provide protection for those fish,” said Peter Paquet, a professor in the urban studies department and board member at Salmon Safe.
Salmon are meaningful to Oregonians in more ways than one, said state Sen. Ginny Burdick at Friday’s ceremony.
“Oregonians hold a reverence for salmon, it’s intrinsic to our culture,” Burdick said. “It’s everything from a religious symbol to a mark of ecological health to a nutritious and delicious treat.”
Salmon Safe started doing certification work in 1997, giving participating wineries eco-labels signifying that they produced wine in a manner that was healthful to aquatic ecosystems. Since then, Salmon Safe has gone on to investigate and certify salmon-friendly practices at farms, dairies and parks throughout Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho.
In 2005 the organization began to also certify corporate campuses, including Nike and Kettle Foods.
PSU officials met with a team of experts in salmon habitat, pest management, and storm water treatment methods when PSU decided to seek certification in November 2005. Salmon Safe’s experts recommended that the university improve its irrigation system, reduce use of synthetic fertilizers and continue its efforts towards storm water management.
The effort to meet Salmon Safe’s standards lasted about two and a half months, said Dresden Skees-Gregory, the university sustainability coordinator. “We were, partially due to budget cuts, already pretty sustainable,” she said. “We couldn’t afford to buy many toxic chemicals.”
Prior to seeking a Salmon Safe certificate, PSU had already embarked on innovative storm water management programs, including the 18,000 square foot Broadway Building eco-roof. The four-inch-deep roof garden reduces Broadway’s water discharge by 28 percent, said David Ervin, the coordinator of PSU’s academic sustainability programs.
Another acclaimed storm water program at PSU is the storm water recycling system at Epler Hall. The system gathers rainfall from the rooftops of Epler and the King Arthur housing building, directs it through “chunnels” into planters bearing native species, then treats the rainwater with UV rays before reusing it to flush first-floor toilets in Epler Hall.
PSU had also already sought ways to reduce on-campus irrigation, such as the placement of native plant species in the campus landscape and the creation of the Stott Center Community Recreation Field, which is composed of recycled Nike shoes instead of grass.
The Salmon Safe initiative is only part of PSU’s greater efforts towards sustainability, Skees-Gregory said. Other sustainability projects include the university’s commitment to “green building” and initiatives to switch the school to 100 percent renewable energy use.
“We have a national and international reputation for sustainability,” said Ervin. “People come from all over the world to see what we’re doing.”
Many hope that PSU’s status as “first salmon-safe university” will spur initiative on the part of other schools and corporate campuses.
“Now I can challenge others – if a 47 acre campus with 79 percent impervious surfaces can become certified, anybody can,” Burdick said at Friday’s ceremony.
Impervious surfaces – such as parking lots, roofs and roads – are a hazard to salmon because runoff from these surfaces frequently washes pollutants into aquatic ecosystems.
Ann Richardson, a representative from U.S. Congressman David Wu’s office, said, “If PSU can do it, they can do it in Nebraska.”