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Most City of Portland offices will be closed Monday, May 29, in observance of Memorial Day.

Aligning Sewer and Stormwater Rates and Charges with Service Costs

On this page, you will learn about the work we are doing to align our current sewer and stormwater rate and charges with service costs.
On this page

Investing in a Healthier and More Resilient Portland

The miles of pipes, pump stations, and treatment facilities that make up our sanitary sewer and stormwater system protect public health and the environment, promote economic development, and support community and climate resiliency. This year, Environmental Services will invest $649 million* to operate, maintain, and repair this infrastructure. Large portions of the system were built more than a century ago. Significant investments in upgrades and repairs are essential to meet regulatory requirements and the needs of our growing population and respond to a changing climate.

*Based on the 2022-23 budget.

Current Challenges

Many components of our pipes and pump station network and the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant are reaching the end of their operational life. Maintenance costs are increasing, and there is a risk of substantial failures if repairs and upgrades are not made. These significant investment needs are compounded by rising costs due to supply chain issues, increasing labor costs, and an inflationary environment that is driving up the cost of every project.

Aligning Rates and Charges

Since 2019, Environmental Services has been conducting a rate study or cost-of-service analysis, which is a technical analysis comparing our rates and charges with peer agencies. The analysis focuses on developing recommendations for updating how we charge our ratepayers to ensure billing is more consistent with service costs.

As part of this effort, we are conducting an outreach and engagement effort to gather community feedback and input on various aspects of the rate study. The feedback and input gathered during this effort will inform the current analysis and future bureau priorities, strategic direction, and decision-making.

Engagement Opportunities

Informational Presentations

Environmental Services is partnering with community organizations and business groups throughout Portland to provide informational sessions. These presentations will occur in the spring and early summer of 2023. If you would like Environmental Services to deliver an informational presentation to your community organization or group, please contact Aaron Abrams.

Upcoming Informational Presentations
  • Central Northeast Neighbors Information Session
  • Floating Homes Community Information Session
  • Drainage District Customer Information Session
    • Wednesday, June 14 - 6 to 7:30 p.m.
    • Zoom Link/Location TBD

"Office Hours" Discussions

We have set aside time to meet with organizations and individuals who would like to discuss things directly with Environmental Services staff. Office Hours are an opportunity to dive deeper into technical questions, or find out more about how your business or property might be impacted.  Please contact Aaron Abrams at 503-823-2827 or to schedule a time.

Upcoming Office Hours Times
  • Thursday, May 25 - 1 to 2:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 1 - 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Friday, June 9 - 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 14 - 10 a.m. to Noon
  • Thursday, June 22 - 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 28 - 10 a.m. to Noon

Technical Discussion Sessions

In March of 2023, representatives from community organizations, commercial and industrial businesses, and other interested Environmental Services ratepayers participated in technical discussions about the way customers are charged for our services.

Engagement with community members and ratepayers will inform how Environmental Services implements the updated rate structure. The technical discussion sessions allowed for technical conversations while also giving space for people from non-technical backgrounds to contribute and learn. 

Please see below for a link to the Technical Discussion Session Presentation as well as summary notes from the sessions.

Council Adoption 

Changes are planned to go into effect starting in July 2024. Proposals will be voted on by City Council in the first half of 2024. 

Sign up for project updates

Sign up for updates on how we set and adjust our rates through our free GovDelivery subscription service. These updates are the best way to stay informed about what's happening and what to expect. You can also sign up for updates on other projects and topics from Environmental Services.


The Preliminary Report contains the technical findings and rate and fee design options developed as part of the rate study.

The Environmental Scan Memorandum summarizes the preliminary findings of the Environmental Scan, including key themes that emerged from initial policy discussions and technical workshops.

This Utility Benchmarking Memorandum summarizes the results of the rate study utility benchmarking exercise. Environmental Services' rate-setting practices and rates were compared against nine benchmark utilities.

The Rate Study Packages Memorandum summarizes the numerous alternatives for designing sanitary sewer and stormwater user rates, system development charges, and stormwater credits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a rate study?
A rate study is a financial evaluation process where a utility, such as Environmental Services, reviews its rate structure to make sure that the cost for ratepayers is proportional to their impact and use of the system.

What are Environmental Services' desired goals and outcomes?
Some of the desired goals and outcomes from this rate study and engagement process are to create a rate structure that:

  • recovers costs in proportion to the demands various customer classes place on the system;
  • considers the impacts on all Portlanders;
  • reflects Environmental Services' values;
  • is administratively feasible to implement;
  • addresses and considers affordability concerns;
  • removes barriers to accessing services and incentive programs.

What is Environmental Services proposing to change?
Environmental Services has compared our rate structure to industry benchmarks and best practices. Environmental Services will review sanitary sewer rates, stormwater rates, system development charges, other fees, and the Clean River Rewards discount program as part of this rate study process. Before formally proposing changes to our rate structure, we will provide options for potential revisions during the public engagement process.

What are some other opportunities to learn more and give feedback?
All opportunities to learn more and give feedback will be posted under the Upcoming Engagement Opportunities section of this page. Environmental Services hosted Technical Discussions and Office Hours and is now hosting Informational Sessions. To stay up-to-date on the rate study process, you can sign up for updates on how we set and adjust our rates through our free GovDelivery subscription service.

Why is Environmental Services recommending adjusting rates, so customers are charged more for stormwater and less for sanitary costs?
Environmental Services is recommending adjusting rates to match the cost of providing sanitary and stormwater services. Since our last consultant-led rate study in 2005, Environmental Services  has significantly invested in capital assets, such as the Big Pipe, the Secondary Treatment Expansion Program, other stormwater assets, as well as  stormwater operations and maintenance costs. Our rates should shift to more closely match what Environmental Services spends on sanitary and stormwater services.

How are Environmental Services rates set?
The first step for setting rates is identifying the revenue necessary to achieve bureau goals based on a multi-year financial forecast. Then, Environmental Services subtracts all of the other ways that the bureau collects money other than via rates - such as fees and system development charges - to arrive at a “rate revenue requirement.” 

Once the rate revenue requirement is identified, Environmental Services rates are set using a cost-of-service methodology. The methodology seeks to recover costs are proportionate to spending from new and existing users of the system.  Spending is allocated to each system (sanitary and stormwater) based on the reason for the expenditure. Lastly, those costs are allocated to customers based on measurable service characteristics. 

Find out more about Environmental Services’ Sewer and Sanitary Stormwater Rates and Charges, as well as the annual rate study, which explains how rates are set in greater detail, on the webpage.

What is the specific rate currently charged to each customer class?
Customers are charged based on the rate ordinance adopted by Council. Rates by customer class are available on the Sanitary Sewer and Stormwater Rates and Charges webpage.

What is the timeline for implementing rate changes?
Changes to the rates from the rate study will be implemented July 1, 2024. It is important to note that rates increase every July 1 to account for inflation, maintenance and operations, and increases in capital costs. This increase is addressed during the budget process.

Is phasing in the change possible?
Yes. The rate changes will be phased in to mitigate abrupt bill increases, particularly for the most impacted customer classes. Environmental Services staff have not determined the phase in schedule but will do so prior to submitting the proposal for Council consideration.

What are Drainage Districts?
Drainage Districts are a series of governmental entities that are separate from the City of Portland and Environmental Services. These Districts provide services, including levee maintenance, flood mitigation activities, and stormwater conveyance from the managed floodplain along the Columbia Slough and Columbia River. There are three drainage districts that are within Environmental Services’ service area along the Columbia River and the Columbia Slough. For more information, please visit the Multnomah County Drainage District website.

How will rates change inside the Drainage Districts?
Rates will be adjusted to reflect the cost of providing services within the Drainage Districts. Currently, customers within the Drainage Districts only pay the off-site portion of stormwater charges. This currently equals 65% of the stormwater rate that is paid by customers outside the Drainage Districts. Rates will increase to match customers outside the Drainage Districts (with a small discount for some services that are provided by the Drainage Districts themselves). This will result in rates that are about 96.6% of the stormwater rate customers pay outside of the Drainage Districts. All other proposed changes impact Drainage District customers in the same way as all other customers.

If Drainage Districts manage stormwater, why is Environmental Services looking to bill people for stormwater management inside the Drainage Districts?
Environmental Services and Drainage Districts provide separate but complementary services. Environmental Services provides stormwater management, compliance with water quality regulations, and stormwater runoff management across the entire city, including within the Drainage Districts. In addition to services provided within the Drainage Districts, many costs for Environmental Services are spread across all customers within the city, such as debt service and overhead costs. Environmental Services bills customers inside the Drainage Districts for services provided to all customers within the city, but not for services provided by Drainage Districts.

Will Clean River Rewards discounts be available for customers in the Drainage Districts?
Yes. Customers in the Drainage District will be eligible to register for a Clean River Rewards discount if they are safely managing some or all of their property’s stormwater on their property.

Why do properties that discharge directly to receiving waters with no local conveyance need to pay a stormwater management charge?
The stormwater system is constructed to benefit all Portlanders by managing stormwater runoff from public and private properties. Properties that discharge directly to receiving waters (streams, rivers, or other water bodies) benefit from the overall stormwater system in many ways and therefore pay stormwater rates. Additionally, debt service payments and other costs benefiting all customers in the city are recovered from all customers. While the customer may not be directly using the stormwater conveyance system, they benefit from the water quality and conveyance mitigation activities as any property in the city does. Environmental Services is also partly responsible for the water quality in the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, which is impacted by those directly discharging.

Why do floating homes and overwater structures need to pay for stormwater management on-site if the water from those structures goes directly into the river?
Similar to on-land customers that directly discharge runoff to receiving waters, properties with overwater structures benefit from the stormwater system as a whole. The stormwater system is constructed to help all Portlanders by managing stormwater runoff from individual properties and the rest of the city, including roads, natural areas, and other parts of the city that benefit everyone.  Additionally, debt service payments and other costs benefiting all customers in the city are recovered from all customers. Finally, these properties have an impact on water quality in our rivers and waterways. If a floating home or overwater structure mitigates their stormwater runoff, much like properties mitigating their stormwater runoff on land, they may be eligible for Clean River Rewards.

What is the impact of runoff from overwater structures on water quality?
All land uses can generate stormwater pollution. When water moves across the landscape, it can pick up and transport pollutants to nearby waterbodies. Buildings themselves can be a source of contaminants, particularly roofing materials. Researchers testing runoff from residential roofs have found roof runoff to contain high concentrations of heavy metals, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs; a large class of organic compounds), phthalates, sediments, and biocides. In the case of asphalt shingles, copper is commonly added as a biocide that is released over time to prevent the growth of moss and algae. The stormwater running off these roofs will pick up some of the added copper. The galvanized metals used in metal roofs have a thin layer of zinc that provides resistance to corrosion. Runoff from metal roofs has also been found to contain high concentrations of copper and zinc. Without treatment, roof runoff can be source of stormwater pollution that can harm fish and other aquatic life. 

Environmental Services staff specializing in water quality and stormwater compliance have reviewed the substantial scientific literature confirming the impacts on water quality from roofing materials and prepared a bibliography of relevant sources.

Why have customers in the Drainage Districts paid a different rate than other customers?
Historically, the rate for Drainage District customers and other customer types (like overwater structures) has been set by policy rather than set by the cost of providing services to those customers. In 2013, Council adopted an intergovernmental agreement with the Drainage Districts to charge the off-site portion of stormwater rates to customers within the Drainage Districts. The updated rates ensure that all customers pay stormwater rates in proportion to the cost of providing service.

How will the changes impact Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)?
Rate changes will not impact ADUs differently than other dwelling units. For stormwater rates, BES currently charges ADUs no additional impervious area, they are included in the class average impervious area for single family customers. In the new structure the site impervious area including the house, ADU and any other pavement would determine the single-family stormwater rate tier assigned to the property as a whole.

If a patio or garage roof drains locally on to the property, why does it count as impervious area?
Environmental Services charges all impervious area even if runoff is managed on-site. If a property’s runoff is fully or partially managed on-site, customers may register to receive a Clean River Rewards discount.

How are people irrigating or watering their yards being charged?
Customers are charged sanitary rates only on flow that enters the sanitary sewer system. Environmental Services recognizes that irrigation and watering yards does not go into the sewer system and has several processes in place to ensure that customers are not charged for irrigation. Please visit the Sanitary Sewer and Stormwater Rates and Charges webpage for more information.

Did Environmental Services analyze how the increase in working from home is shifting costs for property owners?
Changing demand patterns, such as the increase in working from home, are factored into rate forecasts. The changing demand does not change how sanitary costs are allocated, but it will affect individual customers’ bills.

How will the proposed changes to the rate methodology affect incomes in Portland, particularly for low-income and vulnerable communities?
The proposed changes to Environmental Services’ rate structure will generally have a positive cost impact for 80% of single-family residential customers. Single-Family residential customers will be broken up in to four “tiers” according to the amount of impervious area on their property. Each tier will be charged a different rate based on the amount of impervious area.

  • Tier 1 properties (20%), or those with minimal impervious area, can anticipate a reduction of approximately 18% ($15 per month)
  • Tier 2 properties (60%), or those with average impervious area, can anticipate a reduction of approximately 1% ($1 per month)
  • Tier 3 properties (20%), or those with larger houses or high amounts of impervious area, can anticipate a slight increase in their bill - approximately 16% ($13 per month) 
  • Tier 4 properties are very large properties that will be measured based on actual impervious area. They will see fairly significant increases depending on their actual impervious area.

Multifamily Properties will also generally see lower rates because of the proposed changes to the rate methodology. Generally, the proposed changes to multi-family residential rates would increase the share of the bill charged for stormwater and decrease the share of the bill for sanitary service.  

  • Higher-density properties, such as highrise residential condos with no surface parking would see small increases of 1% ($20 Per month). 
  • Middle-density properties with no parking would see small decreases of about 1% ($25 per month).
  • Lower-density properties, such as non-regulated affordable properties in East Portland, would likely see reductions in rates of 4% ($130 Per month).

What are the impacts of the proposed changes on housing affordability and eviction rates?
The expected impacts of the proposed changes are minimal on housing affordability and eviction rates. Overall, housing affordability and eviction rates are influenced by many factors that have a far larger impact than the sewer and stormwater utility bill. Additionally, since most rental properties are multifamily, the utility bill is likely paid for in rent and, therefore, not a direct expense of the tenant. Finally, the changes proposed in the rate study reduce the overall cost burden on residential customers as a whole. While the specific change for a customer will depend on various factors, most residential customers will pay similar amounts as they currently do.