RiverViews, Winter 2023

Two workers aligning a large sewer pipe being lowered into a hole by a crane.
RiverViews is a newsletter from the Bureau of Environmental Services — your sewer and stormwater services provider.

Translate this Page

In this article

Investing in Building a Healthier and More Resilient Portland

The miles of pipes, pump stations, and treatment facilities that make up our sanitary sewer and stormwater system are usually buried out of sight and out of mind for most Portlanders. But even though our system is largely hidden from view, the reliable and safe service it provides is essential. It protects public health and the environment, promotes economic development, and supports community and climate resiliency.

This year, Environmental Services will invest $649 million* to operate, maintain, and repair the infrastructure that carries and treats Portland’s sewage and stormwater. Large portions of the system were built more than a century ago. Investing in upgrades and repairs today helps us continue to fulfill state and federal environmental requirements while meeting the needs of our growing population and changing climate.

Learn more about the investments we are making today for Portland’s future. You might be surprised.

*Value is based on the fiscal year 2022-23 budget

Investments we are making in Portland

Past, Present, and Future Investments

Thanks to the Big Pipe Project and other past Environmental Services investments in water quality, the Willamette River is cleaner than it’s been in decades. The ratepayer-funded Big Pipe Project took 20 years and $1.4 billion to build. The nationally recognized project reduced combined sewer overflows to the Willamette River by 94 percent and to the Columbia Slough by 99 percent. What was once a neglected waterway treated like an open sewer, the river is now an asset for present and future Portlanders to enjoy.

Learn more about the Big Pipe Project.

Several kayakers paddling in the Columbia Slough with many trees along the bank.
The Big Pipe Project and other improvements have significantly improved the water quality of the Willamette River and the Columbia Slough.

Climate Solutions

Portlanders are already experiencing record-breaking heat, more frequent floods, and other extreme weather. Environmental Services is investing in projects and programs that help make Portland more resilient and livable in a changing climate. We use a network of engineered and natural assets, including many acres of wetlands and miles of streams, to reduce flooding, improve water quality, increase urban nature, and provide valuable wildlife habitat. 

Currently, we are designing the West Lents Floodplain Restoration Project, which will restore about 16 acres along Johnson Creek and reconnect the creek to one of its historic floodplains. Floodplains slow and store floodwaters during heavy precipitation and recharge groundwater during drought. Both may become more frequent in the future due to climate change.

Learn more about watershed restoration.

A stream bank lined with dense vegetation and fallen logs.
Watershed restoration leads to cleaner water, builds community resiliency, and makes Portland healthier and more livable for people, fish, and wildlife.

Upgrades and Repairs

More than one-third of Portland’s 2,500 miles of sewer pipes are 80 years old or older. The Downtown and Old Town neighborhoods rely on some of the oldest pipes. If they were to collapse, the consequences would be catastrophic for these neighborhoods and businesses that support our local economy.

The Downtown-Old Town Sewer Repair Program is a multi-year and multi-million-dollar investment to repair the aging sewer system serving the heart of Portland. These projects are just some of the many we are working on across the city to replace or repair aging infrastructure.

Vintage photo of workers constructing a sewer in a Downtown Portland street in the early 1900's.
In Downtown-Old Town, many pipes in use were constructed over a hundred years ago, with some as far back as the mid-1800s.

Future Workforce

Investing in workforce diversity and development increases our capacity to better serve Portlanders. One way we are doing this is by building programs that increase the number of women and people of color in apprenticeships, workforce, and subcontracting roles in the Secondary Treatment Expansion Program—the largest investment in the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plan in 50 years.

We are also investing in our future workforce. Clean Rivers Education offers free classroom and in-the-field science education programs for kindergarten through college students. Students learn about stormwater management, wastewater treatment, watershed health, the causes and effects of water pollution, and what they can do to protect rivers and streams. Clean Rivers Education strives to prepare the next generation of leaders and teaches students about science, technology, engineering, and math-related careers.

If you are a teacher or parent who would like to bring Clean Rivers Education activities to your Portland classroom, contact Megan Hanson at megan.hanson@portlandoregon.gov to learn more.

Four young students looking into a small pool of water in a local stream.

Enter to win a tour of the City’s main wastewater treatment plant 

Ever wonder what happens after the flush? Enter to win a tour of the City’s main wastewater treatment plant and see for yourself. 

Submit an entry.

Who are we?

We are a team of more than 600 people that plan, design, construct, monitor, operate, and maintain the pipes, pumps, and treatment plants that collect and recover resources from wastewater and stormwater. We reduce and prevent pollution, enforce regulations, manage stormwater, and protect and restore natural areas and urban waterways.