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Environmental Services

working for clean rivers

Phone: 503-823-7740

Fax: 503-823-6995

1120 SW 5th Avenue, Room 1000, Portland, OR 97204

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Urban apartments can have nature, too


A cement courtyard becomes a hard-working rain garden and haven for birds

rain garden full of water

Environmental Services works with property owners in targeted areas in Portland to install rain gardens that help relieve local sewer problems.

apartment courtyard before project

apartment courtyard rain garden

A recent project in the Sunnyside neighborhood near SE 28th Avenue and Salmon Street removed about 500 square feet of asphalt and turned a bleak, urban courtyard area into a community asset. A rain garden, drywell, and patio made with pervious pavers replaced the asphalt area.

Now runoff from roof and paved areas soaks into the ground to keep stormwater runoff out of the sewer system, and apartment tenants have a natural, outdoor space to enjoy.

It was important to the property owner to plant a mix of native species to create habitat for beneficial pollinators and birds. The project directs runoff from 4,350 square feet of roof and paved area to the rain garden, and the 200 square foot patio lets rain soak through its pervious pavers into the ground to reduce stormwater runoff.

The rain garden keeps over 100,000 gallons of stormwater out of the sewer system every year to help reduce sewer backups, replenish groundwater and improve watershed health.  

Environmental Services uses partnerships like this to solve sewer capacity issues in neighborhoods with old, undersized pipes. These partnerships also save money for Portland sewer ratepayers by reducing sewer maintenance and wastewater treatment costs.

Photos: The rain garden was already hard at work in the December and January record rains (top). 

Before the project (middle).

After the project (bottom).

River View Natural Area Plan Adopted


Protecting the natural resources and planning for future trails

aerial map of River View Natural Area

Project Advisory Committee tour of River View

On January 14, 2016, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to adopt the River View Natural Area Management Plan.  

The plan protects this valuable 146-acre natural area in southwest Portland, uses a science-based approach to direct management priorities, and outlines a public access strategy that is compatible with protecting natural resources.

In 2011, Environmental Services, Portland Parks & Recreation, Metro and the Trust for Public Land purchased the site from River View Cemetery to protect the natural area’s water quality, habitat and wildlife.  River View is part of the Westside Wildlife Corridor that runs through the West Hills from Forest Park to Tyron Creek State Natural Area. 

wetland at River View


River View’s seven streams and multiple wetlands provide clean, cool water to the Willamette River.  Water temperatures in the river are too high for salmon and other native fish, but river water can be up to 10 degrees cooler at Powers Marine Park where River View’s streams enter the Willamette.  Protecting these cool water sources helps Portland comply with water quality regulations and support salmon recovery.


Since acquiring the property, restoration projects have removed invasive vegetation and planted more than 75,000 native trees and shrubs. See photos from some of the restoration work in our past blog post.   

The full plan and more information about the planning process and public involvement are posted on the Parks website. The city will begin implementing the plan this spring.

River View Natural Area from the Willamette River

City Bureaus Devise Plan for Street Improvements in Southwest Portland

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The Tryon-Stephens Headwaters Neighborhood Street Plan will be a guide for street improvements that include appropriate stormwater management techniques

The Portland City Council unanimously adopted the Tryon-Stephens Headwaters Neighborhood Street Plan in November. With this plan, new neighborhood streets will have smaller footprints than traditional streets, which means they won’t generate as much stormwater runoff. The plan will be a guide for street improvements that include appropriate stormwater management techniques. This will allow neighbors, developers, and the city to improve streets and stormwater management more economically and without changing the feel of the street.

The Tryon-Stephens Plan:

  • Is the first collaboration between the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the Bureau of Environmental Services at the neighborhood scale
  • Furthers the application of new street and stormwater designs that are more flexible and more affordable than the traditional street and stormwater designs that were the only option until a few years ago
  • Moves beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to put improvements on local streets within reach for property owners and the city
  • Lays the foundation for cross-bureau collaboration and for thinking about street and stormwater infrastructure

Go to for more about the Tryon-Stephens Plan, including a link to the final report.

Tryon-Stephens Plan at Southwest Sunday Parkways, September 2014

Tryon-Stephens Open House, January 2015

Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas


New book challenges your views of Portland’s neighborhoods and landscapes

Portlandess book coverPortlandness: A Cultural Atlas, a new book by PSU professors David Banis and Hunter Shobe, is a fresh look at the city for lovers of Portland’s environments.

Chapters include everything from the Columbia Slough and Oaks Bottom to urban wildlife, zoning, demographics, lost streams, ecoroofs and rain gardens, foodie and biking culture, and transportation.  It is infused with photos and stories of Portland’s green infrastructure, including some Environmental Services projects. 

There is something for everyone, whether you’re a newcomer or long-time Portlander.  The book’s innovative graphics and maps were created both by professionals and students (including third graders), and reveal the city’s various cultures and attitudes. We recommend it for the curious, map geeks, and fans of coyotes and chickens!

How big was it?


Information about the Dec. 7th Johnson Creek flood

People familiar with Johnson Creek weren’t surprised when the creek jumped its banks in southeast Portland in early December. But with a record rainfall, many were wondering, just how big was the flood? 

Johnson Creek high water level

While we won’t have an official answer until flood data has been analyzed, here's what we do know:

Rainfall amounts on December 7th were extraordinary. In some parts of Portland, over 2 inches of rain fell in six hours. It was a 25-year storm, which means there’s a 4% chance of that size of rainstorm occurring in any given year. Almost 16 inches of rain fell at Kelly School in the Lents neighborhood between December 1st and December 20th!  

On the afternoon of December 7th, Johnson Creek crested at an all-time record high of 15.33 feet. Creek levels usually range from four to eight feet in the winter. At 11 feet, the creek starts to top its banks in places. The highest previous crest was 15.30 feet in November 1996, also during a 25-year storm. While this month’s flood was slightly higher, the flood in November 1996 lasted longer and spilled more water.

So how could intense rainfall and record high creek levels not result in a 100-year flood?

Johnson Creek rises and falls quickly based on rainfall. That said, not all of the rain reaches the creek. Some soaks into the ground. Trees and plants soak up some, and some collects in ponds, puddles, and gutters. And while the storm lasted for several days, the heaviest rainfall was concentrated in a relatively short amount of time. This caused the creek to rise to flood stage then drop down again quickly.

Documentation of Johnson Creek floods dates back to the mid-1930s. Historically, the most damaging floods along the creek have happened when rain falls on snow on the ground, like the Christmas flood of 1964. The 2009 storm was also a rain-on-snow event, but it did not cause the same amount of damage as in 1964. Johnson Creek hasn’t had a 100-year (or 1% chance) flood during the time records are available.

Foster Floodplain Natural Area during floodWhile the December 7th flood was a historic high for the creek itself, the flood covered less area along Foster Road and in the Lents and Powellhurst Gilbert neighborhoods than during large storms in the past. This is partly due to green infrastructure: the Foster Floodplain, Schweitzer, Luther Road and Tideman Johnson floodplain restoration projects added more storage area for floodwaters along the creek and reduced localized flooding.  

 Foster Floodplain Natural Area at crest

During and after the December 7th flood, staff from Environmental Services and other agencies were on the ground mapping areas that flooded and measuring flood depths. The data they collected will be used to design future floodplain restoration projects along Johnson Creek. 


(top) Luther Road project area during storm

(middle) Foster Floodplain Natural Area as Johnson Creek rises

(bottom) Foster Floodplain Natural Area filled with floodwater as the creek crested (courtesy of Melanie McCandless)