Rainy season on the Willamette: Big Pipe Tracker shows in real-time how river stays sewage-free

News Article
As the rainy season begins (finally!), check the Big Pipe Tracker to find out how full the Big Pipe system is as it protects the Willamette River from combined sewer overflows.
A group of kayakers on the Willamette River
Kayakers on the Willamette River

With rain expected  to begin today (hooray), Environmental Services reminds the public about the Big Pipe Tracker, an online gauge that lets people see in real time how the system keeps sewage out of the Willamette River during storms.

“All Portlanders have a stake in a clean and healthy Willamette River. The Big Pipe Tracker lets people check how the system works to keep the river sewage-free,” said Commissioner Mingus Mapps. “In addition, autumn is a season when we see many people boat, kayak, paddle, and otherwise enjoy the river. The tracker gives people the information they need when they want it.”

Big Pipe Tracker shows 25% full, and a chart below it shows levels over a 72 hour period, fluctuating from zero to about 12% back to zero and bumping along until a spike to 25%
Big Pipe Tracker during the storm of November 11, 2021

The Big Pipe Tracker shows a circular graphic with markers from zero to 100 percent, representing the levels of stormwater and sewage that fill two giant pipes on either side of the Willamette River. Those pipes store the diluted sewage, preventing an overflow. Environmental Services operators can then direct the flow to the City’s main wastewater treatment plant in North Portland.
Since the Big Pipe Project completion in 2011, overflows have dropped by 94 percent to the river, and 99 percent to the Columbia Slough, where another giant pipe was constructed.

Overflows are not just rare, they are smaller in volume and shorter in duration, lasting for minutes to hours instead of days at a time.        

The Big Pipe Tracker is updated every 15 minutes. An accompanying chart shows the levels over a 72-hour period.

While the Big Pipe system is named after its main features—the two giant pipes on either side of the river and one along the slough—the $1.4 billion project that spanned 20 years to build included many other engineering upgrades and neighborhood-based additions. Those include green street planters and rain gardens, which continue to be installed today to soak up stormwater the natural way, and a Clean River Rewards program that continues to encourage homeowners to disconnect downspouts and let rainwater seep into the ground instead of overwhelming pipes. 

Follow the tracker at Big Pipe Tracker.  Find out more at About Big Pipe.

The City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services - your sewer and stormwater utility - provides Portland residents with programs to protect water quality and public health, including wastewater collection and treatment, sewer construction and maintenance, stormwater management, and stream and watershed restoration. Follow on Twitter - @BESPortland. On the web: www.portland.gov/BES.