The purpose of the Floodplain Resilience Plan is to reduce the impacts of future flooding and the degradation of floodplain habitat for endangered and threatened fish species. In anticipation of new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines, the project will update the rules that apply to new development along the edges of Portland’s rivers and streams and strengthen protections for the wildlife for which it is home. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) is leading this effort.
A companion restoration program led by the Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) aims to improve habitat for these species through acquisition and restoration of sites in key floodplain areas. Without these BPS and BES actions, Portlanders risk losing access to federally backed flood insurance and disaster relief grants available to communities that participate in FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
The BPS Floodplain Resilience Plan includes a number of specific actions:
- Map and apply new development and building requirements for the FEMA floodplain along the Willamette River and areas that flooded in 1996 (a 100-year flood).
- Ensure all floodplains within the project area are within an environmental or river overlay zone.
- Increase tree mitigation ratios in the floodplain.
- Apply additional requirements within 170 feet of ordinary high water to increase habitat near rivers and streams.
- Increase required cut and fill ratios in the floodplain.
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 areas 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 percent from historic estimates. Salmon and steelhead are culturally significant species to the Pacific Northwest’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 help protect and contribute to the recovery of 13 endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead populations – more species than any other city on the west coast. Adoption of City Resolutions 35715 (1998) and 35894 (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.
View the project overview document:
The Biological Opinion
In 2009, several local and national environmental and fish conservation organizations sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), claiming that implementation of its National Flood Insurance Program 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-listed species.
In April 2016, NMFS released their Biological Opinion (FEMA BiOp) which stated that FEMA’s implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program in Oregon jeopardizes protected salmon and steelhead because it results in floodplain development and a resulting reduction in habitat for these protected species. The BiOp went on to recommend that FEMA require NFIP participants to develop regulations and programs to ensure they adequately protect floodplain habitat and flood storage. FEMA is working with Oregon jurisdictions to develop regulations and programs that respond to the BiOp and recognize Oregon Land Use law and local conditions.
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 upon to meet their mortgage requirements and access to financial assistance for flood recovery.
The Floodplain Resilience Plan is the second step to update floodplain regulations throughout the city to comply with the FEMA BiOp. The completion of the River Plan/South Reach in December of 2020 was the first step.
More on the National Flood Insurance Program
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 Special Flood Hazard Areas. 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.
Participation in the NFIP requires that communities implement FEMA requirements. Current requirements include building and site development standards for properties in the floodplain and compliance with applicable federal laws, including the ESA.
NFIP-participating communities can also help lower insurance rates for residents through participation in FEMA’s voluntary Community Rating System (CRS) program, which incentivizes community flood mitigation and preparation. Today, Portland’s mitigation and preparation programs result in a 20% discount for Portlanders. This is a significant discount, but it can be lowered even more to a federal maximum discount of 50% through increased preparation and mitigation programs, such as this Floodplain Resilience Program.
Project steps and timeline
Summer 2021: Intergovernmental review
November 2021: Release public Discussion Draft
Fall 2021: Public/property owner engagement
Spring 2022: PSC public hearing, work sessions, recommendation
Summer 2022: City Council Public hearing/decision