The holidays are a time for memories. Unfortunately, for Portlanders and people around the state who remember the Christmas Flood of 1964, some memories aren’t so good. Statewide, flooding in late December 1964 and early January 1965 set records. In many places, it was the largest flood local communities had seen. The flood caused an estimated $514 million in damage statewide, roughly $3.9 billion in today’s dollars.
On December 22, 1964, Johnson Creek in southeast Portland crested at 14.68 feet, over three feet above flood stage. Rain falling on snow was to blame for the third highest flood since records were first kept for Johnson Creek in the 1940s. Only the floods of November 1996 and January 2009 were higher. In the 1964 flood, about 1,200 homes, businesses and other buildings were inundated and the community response triggered a series of attempts to address flooding problems along Johnson Creek.
After this catastrophic event, many proposals were forwarded to address the flooding problem. But it wasn’t until 1997 that Environmental Services completed Portland’s first flood mitigation project, the Brookside Wetlands Project. Brookside is one of seven Johnson Creek floodplain projects Environmental Services has completed to date. Through the Willing Seller Program, the bureau purchases floodplain properties to restore creek and floodplain habitat. This helps reduce the impacts of nuisance floods, improve water quality and support salmon recovery.
Recent projects, like the Foster Floodplain Natural Area, make a big difference. Just after New Year’s Day in 2012, Johnson Creek rose to more than two feet above flood stage, but the natural area held the floodwaters and prevented flooding on Foster Road. While the Foster Floodplain is designed to handle these smaller floods, larger floods like the Christmas 1964 event will overflow the site and spread to homes and businesses up to a half a mile away.
Floods are natural events, but they’re often made worse in urban areas by the amount of stormwater runoff from streets, roofs and other impervious surfaces. While we can’t keep the rain away, you can keep your family, home and business safe. Visit our Flood Information page for tips and resources.
For questions about Environmental Services’ efforts to restore Johnson Creek and its floodplains, contact Marie Walkiewicz, 503-823-6199 or Marie.Walkiewicz@portlandoregon.gov.