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About the Floodplain Resilience Plan

A large flooding body of water digging up the ground next to a house
Overview, timeline and background on the Floodplain Resilience Plan.
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Project overview

The Floodplain Resilience Plan aims to reduce the impacts of future flooding on people and buildings, as well as the impacts of development on floodplain habitat. In anticipation of new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines, the project will:

  • Update the rules for new development near Portland’s rivers and streams.
  • Strengthen protections for wildlife in these crucial habitat areas.

The Floodplain Resilience Plan updates the zoning code (Title 33 of the City Code). The project is led by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) in partnership with a number of other City bureaus. The project will:

  • Update development requirements in most of the city’s floodplains and establish new minimum requirements for removal and replacement of trees and vegetation.
  • Apply expanded mitigation requirements to increase habitat within 170 feet of rivers.
  • Ensure that undeveloped floodplains are within one of the City’s environmental overlay zones.
  • Incorporate the results of a recently completed flood model for the Lower Willamette River into City floodplain maps to better address future flood risk. (City staff prepared the model in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

View the project overview document:

Project steps and timeline

November 2021: Release of public Discussion Draft

November 2021 – January 2022: Discussion Draft public comment period

August 2022: Release of Proposed Draft

September 27, 2022: PSC public hearing

October – November 2022: PSC work sessions and recommendation

Late August – October 2023: City Council public hearing, deliberations and adoption

Related Project: Building Regulations (Title 24) Update

The City’s building regulations (Title 24 of the City Code) include requirements that new development in the floodplain must comply with to protect against and minimize flooding. These regulations include floodproofing of new buildings and requiring an equal amount of excavation when fill (soil) is placed in the floodplain. This excavation, often referred to as “balanced cut/fill,” ensures that adequate space for flood waters is maintained with development so flood risk does not increase on neighboring properties.

An initial draft of potential updates to building regulations was included in the Floodplain Resilience Plan Discussion Draft, along with zoning code changes. After public comment on the Discussion Draft, the building regulations proposals were separated from the Floodplain Resilience Plan proposals. Bureau of Development Services (BDS) staff have continued to refine the proposed building regulations updates.

Both the BDS building regulations project and the Floodplain Resilience Plan (zoning code amendments) will be at City Council starting in late August 2023.

In June 2023, concepts for updates to building regulations were released. Specific code updates are now available for public review and comment.

Read more about these proposed changes

Project background

The City of Portland is situated at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Several tributaries feed the Willamette River, including important fish-bearing streams, such as Johnson Creek, Tryon Creek, and Fanno Creek via the Tualatin River. Salmon and steelhead that live, grow in, and travel through these Portland waterways eventually find their way to many parts of the Pacific Northwest and the ocean.

Salmon have been an integral part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem for thousands of years, but loss of habitat, water pollution, and barriers such as dams and culverts have reduced their numbers by approximately 90% from historic estimates. Salmon and steelhead are culturally significant species to the area’s many Native American tribes. The health and abundance of these iconic species are also essential to Northwest economies, including commercial and sport fisheries as well as outdoor recreation.

The City of Portland is committed to protecting and contributing to the recovery of the endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead populations that inhabit the area’s rivers and streams – more species than any other city on the west coast. Adoption of City Resolution Nos. 35715 (in 1998) and 35894 (in 2000) demonstrate Portland’s commitment to the recovery of listed salmon and steelhead within its jurisdiction. Over the past 20 years, Portland has made significant investments to support the return of wild salmon to its 125 miles of rivers and streams.

The Biological Opinion

In 2009, several local and national environmental and fish conservation organizations, including Portland Audubon, sued FEMA, claiming that implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in Oregon jeopardizes the recovery of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. As a result of the lawsuit, FEMA agreed to have the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) assess the program in Oregon to determine its potential impacts on Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed species.

In April 2016, NMFS released a Biological Opinion (FEMA BiOp) that determined that the NFIP jeopardizes protected salmon and steelhead in Oregon because it results in floodplain development and, therefore, a reduction in habitat for these protected species. The FEMA BiOp directed FEMA to update NFIP requirements and associated programs to avoid impacts to protected species.

Implementation of ESA-compliant development regulations, along with City-led restoration projects, will help ensure Portlanders have ongoing access to the federally-backed flood insurance they rely on to meet their mortgage requirements and financial assistance for flood recovery.

More on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

Created by Congress in 1968, the NFIP offers federally-backed insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their local government participates in the program. Flood insurance is required for all federally-backed mortgages and loans in federally-designated flood zones, called the Special Flood Hazard Area (often referred to as the FEMA 100-year floodplain). Federal flood insurance is available, regardless of risk and often (but not always) at a lower cost than private insurance. Frequently, it is available when private insurance is not. Property owners outside of the FEMA 100-year floodplain can voluntarily purchase insurance through the NFIP.

Participation in the NFIP requires that communities implement FEMA’s minimum requirements. Current requirements include building and site development standards and compliance with applicable federal laws, including the ESA.

NFIP-participating communities can also lower insurance rates for their residents through participation in FEMA’s voluntary Community Rating System program, which incentivizes additional community flood mitigation and preparation strategies. Today, Portland’s mitigation and preparation programs result in a 25% discount for Portlanders.


Jeff Caudill

City Planner II, Planning and Sustainability

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