News Release

For release: Nov. 21, 2005

Dick Pedersen, Northwest Region Administrator, Portland, (503) 229-5332; cell: (971) 563-7294
Jeff Bachman, Compliance & Enforcement, Portland, (503) 229-5950
Brian White, Communications & Outreach, Portland, (503) 229-6044

DEQ Issues Penalties Totaling Nearly $450,000 to City of Portland for Sewage Discharges to Willamette and Other Waterways

Raw sewage discharged on 67 separate occasions between March 2001 and November 2005 reduced water quality below state standards

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The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued penalties totaling $449,800 against the City of Portland for numerous raw sewage overflows into the Willamette River and several streams that flow into the Willamette. A total of 67 discharges over a period of about four and a half years occurred from the city’s sewage collection system at multiple locations throughout Portland. Discharges also were reported to the Columbia River and Columbia Slough. The 67 discharges totaled about 1,875,000 gallons of sewage.


Most of the overflows were caused by blockages in pipes carrying sewage to treatment plants, DEQ water quality officials said.


“While we appreciate the progress made by the city in constructing a new system to control pollution, it is essential that the city make every effort to prevent raw sewage discharges to the Willamette and its tributaries,” said DEQ Director Stephanie Hallock.


The discharges occurred between March 2001 and November 2005 into the Willamette River and several of its tributaries, including Stephens, Fanno, Johnson and Cedar Mill creeks, as well as the Columbia Slough and Columbia River. Most of the discharges ranged between 1,000 and 10,000 gallons.


The largest discharges included a 660,000-gallon discharge into the Willamette near 3001 SW Moody St. on Sept. 8, 2005 and a 511,714-gallon discharge to Fanno Creek near 6900 SW Railroad on Oct. 4, 2005.


Since 1998, DEQ has fined the city seven times for water quality violations.


Oregon environmental law prohibits sewage overflows to state waters because sewage contains disease-carrying bacteria which are a threat to public health and the environment. Many of these discharges occurred during dry weather, when there was a greater likelihood of human contact with sewage in local streams and the Willamette. Sewage is also a significant water pollutant that can harm aquatic life and cause public waters to be unsuitable for recreation, commercial and agricultural uses.


DEQ officials noted that the Willamette River is already significantly polluted by wet-weather discharge of raw sewage from the city’s combined sewers. These combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are not subject to DEQ enforcement action, as outlined in an agreement between DEQ and the city to allow the city to complete timely construction of its updated CSO facilities.


DEQ has worked closely with the city to take a holistic look at its CSOs, stormwater management and sewage collection system maintenance problems to address water quality issues. The city has responded to individual overflows in a timely manner, DEQ water quality officials noted.


The city has until Dec. 12 to either pay the fine or appeal the penalty.

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