Vancouver Watersheds

A watershed is an area of land where all rainwater flows to the same place. Water flows through various creeks and streams before ending up in a larger water body. The two primary watersheds within Vancouver city limits are Burnt Bridge Creek and Columbia Slope, with Vancouver Lake basin at the western boundary and Lacamas Creek watershed to the east. All Vancouver watersheds ultimately drain into the Columbia River. As water flows across streets, parking areas and other hard surfaces, it picks up pollutants which can negatively affect the environment and even human health. Protecting our water resources requires pollution prevention efforts across all watersheds.

To better understand sources of pollution and its connection to groundwater, the City of Vancouver completed the Vancouver Watershed Health assessment in 2019. More detailed information can be found for the Burnt Bridge Creek, Columbia Slope and Vancouver Lake watersheds in this integrated scientific assessment report.

The complete Watershed Health Assessment can be found at the following links (coming soon):

Burnt Bridge Creek Watershed

From its headwaters near Northeast 162nd Avenue, Burnt Bridge Creek flows almost 13 miles to enter Vancouver Lake west of I-5. The Burnt Bridge Creek watershed encompasses approximately 28 square miles of which 70 percent is within Vancouver city limits. More than 80 percent of the watershed is in residential land use. Commercial and industrial uses cover about 10 percent of the land area in the watershed. Agricultural land uses are primarily in the upper (northeast) portion of the watershed and cover less than 10 percent of the land area. Together, natural areas and open water comprise only about two percent of the total watershed area.

Two minor tributaries flow into Burnt Bridge Creek east of Andresen Road. Peterson Channel enters Burnt Bridge Creek near the southern end of the Royal Oaks Country Club. Burton Channel joins the creek south of Burton Road near the southern end of Meadowbrook Marsh.  A third tributary, Cold Creek, flows west through unincorporated Clark County and joins Burnt Bridge Creek west of I-5, approximately two miles upstream of Vancouver Lake. Flow from Burnt Bridge Creek contributes only about two percent of the total water entering the lake. 

Water quality in Burnt Bridge Creek has been monitored by various agencies and organizations since the 1970s. Monitoring data show impairments typical to most urban streams, and the creek has not met state standards for temperature, dissolved oxygen, bacteria and (occasionally) pH. Nutrients are also of concern due to increased phosphorus and nitrogen in streams contributing to excess plant and algal growth.

The City’s long-term Water Quality Monitoring Program typically measures temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, turbidity, total suspended solids nutrients and bacteria.

All monitoring datasets are available through the Washington State Department of Ecology Environmental Information Management (EIM) database. Environmental Information Management database – Washington State Department of Ecology

In 2020, Washington State Department of Ecology published a source assessment report and is working with the City of Vancouver and local stakeholders to develop a water cleanup plan. Ongoing stormwater management strategies continue to focus on lowering stream temperatures through increased riparian shading and reducing nutrient and decreasing bacteria concentrations through public education about responsible pet waste disposal and minimizing fertilizer use in landscaping. Burnt Bridge Creek Watershed Fecal Coliform Bacteria, Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen, and pH: Source Assessment

Burnt Bridge Creek has been selected for inclusion in the Lower Columbia River Urban Streams Study to fulfill a regional monitoring requirement under the state NPDES Stormwater Discharge Permit. Periodic monitoring, conducted by Clark County staff, will include water level, conductivity, benthic macroinvertebrates, sediment chemistry, water chemistry and physical habitat condition.

Columbia Slope Watershed

The Columbia Slope watershed encompasses approximately 25 square miles, including hillsides between Vancouver Lake and Lacamas Creek that drain into the Columbia River. Approximately two thirds of the watershed is within Vancouver city limits. Land use in the watershed is predominantly residential (approximately 86 percent) and commercial/industrial (approximately 13 percent). The westernmost part of the watershed includes a small portion of the Vancouver Lake Lowlands.

The Columbia Slope watershed is composed of terraces and old river flood plain areas, draining multiple springs and streams. Small ponds, marshes and wetland areas along the Columbia River shoreline are sustained by groundwater fed springs, surface water runoff and stormwater infiltration in the upper reaches of the watershed. The northern boundary of the watershed roughly follows Mill Plain Boulevard and the eastern boundary, between the City of Vancouver and Camas, starts at Northwest Brady Road.

In 2020, the City of Vancouver received grant funding from EPA to lead a study to conduct water quality sampling at six locations within the Columbia Slope sub-watershed. Water samples will be tested for temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, metals and nutrients, as well as pesticides and hydrocarbons in limited cases. Columbia River | US EPA

Vancouver Lake Watershed

Vancouver Lake is a large Columbia River floodplain lake situated adjacent to the City of Vancouver. Covering about 2,300 acres, it is the largest lake in the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area. The lake remains connected to the Columbia River by tidally influenced flows through Lake River, a 14-mile-long slough, and a narrow flushing channel constructed in the 1980s. Although the channel was constructed to increase water inputs from the Columbia River it only achieved a five percent flow volume. Burnt Bridge Creek contributes about two percent of the total lake water budget. Water levels in the lake fluctuate with tidal cycles and river stage but the lake remains shallow with a mean depth of 3 to 5 feet. A USGS study conducted flow and water quality monitoring in the Vancouver Lake Watershed from 2010-2012 to identify water and nutrient contributions to the lake,

As a regional resource, Vancouver Lake provides a variety of functions, including fish and wildlife habitat; flood control; wetlands, surface water and ground water hydrology; boating, bird watching, hiking, hunting and more. A variety of government agencies share interest, involvement and authority over those many and diverse lake functions, which have been shaped by years of public interest, from farming in the 1800s to the present. Most of the Vancouver Lake watershed is outside the City’s jurisdiction.

Vancouver Lake Watershed Partnership

In 2004, the Port of Vancouver, City of Vancouver Department of Public Works, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation, Clark County Department of Public Works and the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association formed the Vancouver Lake Watershed Partnership to bring together federal, state, local public agencies and citizen stakeholders concerned about water quality and lake closures resulting from toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the lake. Over the 10 years that followed, the Partnership efforts established a solid foundation for future planning and potential implementation.

Experience Vancouver Lake

In 2015, the Partnership’s funding Steering Committee agreed to contract with the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership to engage Vancouver area students and community members in a comprehensive watershed outreach program that builds community awareness and appreciation for Vancouver Lake. The Experience Vancouver Lake Program is also intended to build a constituency of people committed to ensuring Vancouver Lake remains a valued regional community treasure and environmental resource.