Thousands entered, 25 won: Tours of the City’s Main Wastewater Treatment Plant Gave Portlanders a Behind-the-Scenes Look of Public Works

News Article
An Environmental Services employee standing between two huge pipes while talking to a group of tour participants.

This year’s edition of RiverViews, the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services’s annual mailer to all our customers, came with a curious offer – a chance to win a free tour of the City’s main wastewater treatment and resource recovery plant. More than 3,000 Portlanders took up that offer, entering the drawing.

Twenty-five lucky participants and guests were randomly selected and given the tour in April. These highly anticipated tours gave participants an up-close look at the inner workings of Oregon’s largest wastewater treatment plant, where dirty water is turned into clean water and energy, and nutrients are recovered. The tours highlight the crucial roles public works assets have in supporting communities.

A team of Environmental Services experts led visitors through stages of the treatment process, unveiling the complex operations involved in safeguarding public health and the environment. From the initial wastewater intake to the release of treated water to the Columbia River, participants witnessed the dedication and expertise required to manage and treat wastewater effectively. The immersive experience also showcased the invaluable contributions made by public works professionals to keep the system that every Portlander relies on every hour of every day running smoothly.

An aerial view fo the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant with construction going on around the plant.
The Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant is undergoing the largest improvement project since the 1970s.

“I read all the city newsletters, so when I saw the little blurb about a drawing for a tour, I immediately entered. It felt like I’d won the lottery for civics nerds. The tour guides taught me about an essential service that is so directly related to livability, environmental health, longevity, etc.,” said tour participant Kristen K.

The tour also emphasized some sustainability aspects of the plant, such as utilizing biogas generated during the treatment process for electricity generation and the recovery of biosolids and returning those nutrients to the soil, as well as the major investments Environmental Services is making in the plant, like the Secondary Treatment Expansion Program.

Environmental Services employees showing several tour participants what biosolids are.
Wastewater Operator, Charissa Rogers, shows tour participants biosolids recovered from the treatment process.

 “Tours of our critical water infrastructure, like the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant, foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for the critical role of public works in our daily lives,” says Dawn Uchiyama, Director of Environmental Services. “By showcasing the wastewater treatment process and the efforts of public works professionals, participants gained deeper interest and insight into the complex infrastructure that supports our communities.”

For those who missed this opportunity but would like to learn more, watch After the Flush - a short video about the wastewater treatment process - or learn more on our webpage. 

About Environmental Services
Environmental Services - the City of Portland’s sewer and stormwater utility - protects public health and the environment by collecting and recovering resources from the city’s wastewater, managing stormwater, and restoring and protecting Portland’s rivers, streams, and watersheds.

About the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant
Located in North Portland, the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant is managed by Environmental Services and serves more than 650,000 customers every hour of every day. Plant operators work around the clock to manage an average of 70 million gallons of wastewater through the treatment process each day. On rainy days, the amount of wastewater going to the plant can increase up to 450 million gallons.