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The City in Action
The City of Portland and its partners are working hard along many fronts to make sure we live along our rivers in ways that benefit our economy, environment, and quality of life. A major city focus is reclaiming the Willamette River as its centerpiece.
In December 2011, the City of Portland will complete its 20-year program to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs). After that, CSO volume to the Willamette River will be reduced by 94%. Instead of overflowing nearly every time it rains, combined sewers will overflow to the river only during major rain storms, which happen on average four times each winter and once every third summer.
Portland’s combined sewers mix sewage and stormwater runoff in the same pipes. When it rains, the pipes fill to capacity and some of the stormwater and sewage mixture overflows through outfall pipes into the Willamette River.
The City's Bureau of Environmental Services began work to control CSOs in 1991. The program includes projects to remove stormwater runoff from sewers and constructing facilities to collect and convey combined sewage to the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant.
In December of 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated a portion of the Willamette River as the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. More than a century of industrial activity has resulted in the contamination of river sediments with hazardous substances. The stretch of the river between the Fremont Bridge and Sauvie Island is being studied under EPA and DEQ oversight. The City’s Bureau of Environmental Services is working closely with EPA, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and others to investigate the nature and extent of sediment contamination in the Harbor.
When it rains, stormwater that isn't properly managed can flow over hard surfaces (like streets, sidewalks, parking lots and other paved surfaces), and can pick up pollutants along the way and wash them into rivers and streams. This "runoff" can also cause flooding and erosion. Portland’s
Bureau of Environmental Services has instituted programs to reduce the volume of stormwater in the City’s collection system and direct it to features that imitate nature--like landscaped planters, swales and rain gardens, or ecoroofs—which reduce and filter this runoff.
Portland is a city of forethought and design. It has long had an interest in what it is and where it is going. The City is now in the process of envisioning its bond to the Willamette for the next 20-or-more years. The River Plan is addressing a broad set of topics, including how to assure an environment where Harbor industries, neighborhoods, natural resources, and recreation co-exist and prosper. Currently, the planning effort is conducting new and detailed natural resource and industrial lands inventories, surveying businesses and residents, studying possible recreational enhancements (trails, boating), and examining zoning regulations and design guidelines for effectiveness and streamlining opportunities. Whatever Portland’s Willamette will be in 20 years is taking shape right now through the River Plan.
Along Southwest Portland’s Willamette shore, the City’s relationship with the River is beginning anew. The South Waterfront enterprise is transforming a once-derelict brownfield into a new riverfront district with a unique urban signature characterized by a mix of high-rise offices, housing, hotels, parks and retail uses. This redevelopment will serve as a catalyst for creating a larger science and technology-based economy in the Central City. It also includes an innovative new way for people in Portland’s West Hills to connect with the riverfront — an aerial tram. In addition, the multi-modal transportation system will provide strong connections to a restored greenway and trail system along 6,500 linear feet of riverfront.
Ross Island occupies the middle of the Willamette River in Southwest Portland. Most of it is owned by Ross Island Sand and Gravel, a company that has mined river gravel there since the 1920s. For over 100 years, Portlanders have been interested in including Ross Island as part of the City’s parks and natural resources system. The island offers very valuable habitat for endangered species such as eagles and salmon, as well as a priceless greenspace in an increasingly dense urban area. Acquiring property on Ross Island has been called the “next great step” in the Portland parks legacy, comparable to past efforts to preserve Forest Park or Oaks Bottom. In late 2007, Dr. Robert Pamplin, owner of Ross Island Sand and Gravel, donated 45 acres to the City. This parcel is the newest addition to Portland’s network of publicly owned natural areas. Portland’s Parks Bureau is now removing invasive species and developing a management plan for the site.