Frequently Asked Questions
From Residential Septic to Public Sewer
Environmental Services (BES), your public sewer and stormwater services provider, is responsible for building and maintaining the public sewer collection and treatment system. Most developed properties in Portland are connected to the public sewer system, but some properties still use private septic systems and are not connected to the city sewer. As a septic system ages, its chance of failing and releasing untreated sewage into the environment increases.
Rather than wait for individual septic systems to fail, BES is identifying areas where building new sewer lines will extend the public sewer system to multiple residential properties on septic systems, help prepare them for system failures, and provide them a connection to the public sewer. The following questions and answers apply only to residential properties.
Why now and why here?
Environmental Services has selected this area for a variety of reasons. First, a number of private septic systems have failed and due to state regulations are not allowed to repair their existing systems or install new systems. Therefore, they must connect to the public sewer system.
Second, this area has a high density of homes using private septic systems. Because building a new public sewer will provide public sewer service to about 90 homes on septic, this project provides a cost-effective use of the city’s current sewer extension budget. The project shares financial responsibility among all affected property owners and the City of Portland for building and paying for public sewer extensions for private property connections.
In addition, the average age of the homes and septic systems in this area is more than 50 years, and more failures are predicted by our engineers. Failed septic systems can contaminate adjacent properties and pose a threat to Johnson Creek water quality. This sewer extension project will help protect water quality, public health and the environment.
The project will bring reliable sanitary sewer service to properties in this area and allow property owners time to budget for the costs of connecting to the public sewer extension and decommissioning their private septic systems.
Why connect to the public sewer?
Connecting to the public sewer system is required by city and state plumbing codes. The city requires all properties within the city to connect to the public sewer system when a public sewer line is made available, or when a septic system fails. When a septic system fails, the state requires connection to a public sewer line within 300 feet of the affected property.
A failing septic system can contaminate groundwater, wells and nearby water bodies, which poses a threat to public health, water quality and the environment. Clean up of contamination can be costly.
What is the project timeline?
The SE Claybourne Street and 135th Avenue Sewer Extension Project is currently under construction. Construction activities should be completed by the end of 2020 or early 2021. A more detailed construction schedule will be emailed and posted on the project webpage on a bi-weekly basis.
What can I expect during project design?
The first steps in the design of this sewer extension project will be performed by the city and its contractors. The following activities will occur in phases over the next few months and property owners will be notified:
- Utility Locates: Utility companies will place temporary paint markings or flags on the pavement and in the public right-of-way to mark locations of their underground utilities.
- Survey of Utilities: Using those markings, city surveyors will digitally identify underground utilities so that engineers can design the new sewer pipe without interfering with other utilities.
- Other Survey Activities: City surveyors will document the foundation height of each home that will be connecting to the new public sewer and check to see which homes have basements. These measurements will determine the depth of the sewer line to allow gravity flow from each home. This will require entry onto each property, possibly onto the front porch. Property owners will be notified.
- Soil, Water and Pavement Sampling: Before construction, crews drill holes in street pavement and collect soil, water and pavement samples at various locations. Analyzing the samples helps engineers understand underground conditions. The holes are a few inches in diameter and are filled immediately after drilling is completed. The work may temporarily close traffic lanes or prohibit on-street parking and may cause brief periods of noise, dust and mild vibration. Work at each location generally lasts about one hour.
The following next steps will require each property owner’s participation:
- Branch Connection Location Map and Form: After the above activities are completed, the city will send each property owner a branch connection location map and a branch connection description form showing the proposed location of the new branch connection that will connect their property to the public sewer main.
- Property Owner Review of Map and Completion of Form: The property owner will review the map and proposed branch connection location, make any changes or corrections necessary as instructed, complete and sign the form, and return the edited map and signed form to the city.
- Consultation with Plumber: The property owner may need to consult with a plumber to help them review the branch connection location map, complete the form, and get a bid for the necessary future plumbing work. The future work will include getting their property connected to the new public sewer and decommissioning their septic system.
What can I expect during project construction?
The following conditions are typical of sewer construction:
- Noise, Vibration and Dust: Construction creates noise, vibration and dust and disrupts normal neighborhood activity.
- Work Hours: Typical work hours are 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the contractor may schedule work during the same hours on Saturdays.
- Traffic Delays: Traffic control signs will be in place. The contractor will maintain local access to all properties, but you should expect delays.
- Parking Restrictions: On-street parking in or near the work area may be limited. Please observe the “No Parking” signs.
- Equipment Storage: The contractor may store equipment and materials in the work area and on nearby streets overnight.
- A Safe Work Site: Please stay clear of all construction activities and keep children, pets and vehicles out of construction and equipment storage areas. A city inspector will be on-site during work hours and may be able to assist you with an immediate need during construction.
- Phased Construction: There may be periods of inactivity between construction phases due to a variety of factors, including weather, schedules and availability of materials.
What is the deadline to connect my property to the new public sewer?
After the city completes construction of the new public sewer line, the city will mail a notice to each property owner. Mandatory connection of all properties will be required within three years after the project is completed. This gives property owners about five years to make arrangements to connect to the new public sewer line, unless their private septic system fails. Septic systems that fail will be required to connect to the public sewer as soon as possible.
What happens if a property owner doesn’t connect to the public sewer by the three-year deadline?
The city requires developed properties to connect to the sewer system within three years after sewer service becomes available. The city also provides low interest loans to finance connection costs and gives qualifying property owners the option of delaying connection, or even delaying payment, under special circumstances.
A property owner who doesn’t connect to the sewer system within three years after sewer service becomes available could face enforcement actions. Portland City Code 17.33.100 Connection Enforcement authorizes the city to deem a property as a public nuisance for failure to connect to the public sewer. In addition, BES could connect the property to the public sewer if the property owner fails to do so. The costs associated with sewer connections made under enforcement are substantially higher than those done voluntarily, and will result in a lien on the property.
How do I decommission my residential septic system and connect to the public sewer?
BES recommends that property owners hire a professional plumbing contractor to decommission their residential septic system and install a private sewer line to connect their property to the public sewer.
Typically, the contractor will develop a scope of work and bid price, which usually includes the work and costs associated with obtaining required permits. Permit fees, which are subject to change every year, are about $480 as of Fiscal Year 2016-17.
BES recommends that property owners work with licensed and bonded contractors; look for an Oregon Construction Contractors Board license number or CCB#.
Decommissioning a septic system generally happens at the same time a property is connected to the public sewer, and requires a permit and inspection from the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS).
Property owners doing the work themselves are advised to contact BDS before beginning any work for a full description of the process and code requirements. BDS is located at 1900 SW 4th Avenue. Call BDS at 503-823-7300 for more information.
Whether a property owner hires a contractor or does the work themselves, it is important to work with BDS to ensure compliance with plumbing codes and to ensure that the required permits are obtained and properly recorded.
Be sure to obtain at least three competitive bids before agreeing to hire a contractor. It is also a good idea to ask friends and family for recommendations. Follow this link for a list of plumbing contractors in the Portland area: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/article/455516.
What does it cost property owners to connect to the public sewer?
Both public and private costs may apply to decommission a septic system and connect to the public sewer.
The following public charges may apply (rates as of Fiscal Year 2019-20):
Property owners are required to reimburse the City of Portland for a portion of the costs to extend the public sewer into their area.
- Residential system development charge is $6,917;
- Sewer branch charge (sewer connection fee) is $6,967;
- Sewer line charge is $1.87 per assessable square foot (ASF). The ASF is calculated by measuring the width of frontage (property line running parallel to the city street and sewer line multiplied by the depth of the property, not to exceed 100 feet for residential properties. Exceptions to this rule include nonresidential properties, flag lots, properties without frontage, and properties with atypical alignments to the street and/or public sewer.
These charges and fees are due to the city before a permit will be issued to decommission a septic system and connect to the public sewer. They are set by City Council, reviewed annually and subject to change on the first of July every year.
In addition to the public charges and fees above, private plumbing costs will apply:
- Costs of hiring a contractor to decommission a septic system, and
- Costs of hiring a contractor to install a service lateral for their property.
BES recommends that property owners hire a professional plumbing contractor to decommission their residential septic system and install a service lateral for their property
Is financial assistance available?
Financial assistance is available for property owners who meet certain qualifications:
- City of Portland Loan Contract: The city offers this loan contract for property owners to finance the costs of constructing public sanitary sewers. The residential system development charge, sewer branch charge and sewer line charge can be financed using a City of Portland Loan Contract.
- Private Plumbing Loan: The city offers this loan for property owners to finance the costs of hiring sewer contractors to decommission septic systems and connect properties to the public sewer.
- Safety Net Low Income Loan: The city offers this loan for property owners who qualify to finance the costs of constructing public sanitary sewers and hiring sewer contractors to decommission septic systems and connect properties to the public sewer.
For more information about financial assistance and how to apply for a loan, contact the Required Sewer Connection program at 503-823-4114 or visit www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/article/298341.
What are the monthly sewer and stormwater charges from the City of Portland?
After you connect your property to the public sewer system, a sewer and stormwater charge will be added to your water bill from the City of Portland. This charge will cover sewage and storm water treatment, operation, maintenance and debt service for the sewer and storm water system. Currently, the average Portland household is paying $200 to $250 a quarter for these services.
For more information about your sewer/stormwater/water bill, visit http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/31019.
What if a septic system fails suddenly and unexpectedly?
Currently when a septic system fails, a property owner will have to determine if a public sewer line is available. In the best case scenario, a public sewer line is already located in the street and connecting to it is as simple as hiring a sewer contractor to do the work. In the worst case, a property owner may have to extend the public sewer line. This typically means additional city permits and higher costs.
What authority does the city have to require connection to the public sewer system, charge fees, and conduct enforcement?
Chapter 17.33 of the Portland City Code authorizes the city to do the following:
- Facilitate timely connection of individual properties to the public sewer system when a public sanitary sewer is available.
- Provide for financial assistance to property owners required to make a new sewer connection.
The following city codes are available online at www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/28860:
- 17.33.030 Sewer Connection Mandated
- 17.33.040 Mandated Sewer Service Connection Charges
- 17.33.100 Connection Enforcement
How do I get more information about this project?
For more information about this project, visit the webpage at www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/Claybourne. If you have questions or concerns, please contact Aaron Abrams by phone at 503-823-2827 or by email at Aaron.Abrams@portlandoregon.gov.