Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Updated: January 29, 2018
This FAQ is designed to help the community and our customers understand why and how the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) bills customers for stormwater management. It will be updated as we collect additional public input and questions.
If you have questions, please contact Sherri Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 503-823-5310.
What is stormwater, and what does BES do with it?
Stormwater is precipitation – rain, snow, etc. - that lands on hard surfaces like streets and rooftops. BES uses a variety of tools to manage stormwater, including drains and pipes, bioswales and green streets, and stream restoration.
Why does BES manage stormwater?
We manage stormwater to protect public safety, prevent property damage, and promote a healthy environment.
Without proper management, stormwater can flood homes and businesses. It can cause or increase erosion, even in places away from rivers and streams. And it can carry soil, chemicals, and other pollutants into our local waterways. There are many state and federal health, safety, and environmental regulations we comply with.
How does our community benefit from stormwater management?
Regardless of where you live or work in Portland, stormwater management helps you by keeping our roadways clear of standing water so residents, employees, and business owners can go about their days. It keeps families safe from chemicals that could be in the water. It protects homes and businesses from landslides and sinkholes.
Stormwater Billing Timeline
How does BES bill for stormwater management?
In 1977, the City conducted a study called the Sewage Disposal Fund Rate Study. It established how customers would be billed for stormwater management.
From the study, BES found that measuring the size of hard surfaces on a property would be the easiest and fairest way to bill customers. Properties with more hard surfaces get billed more.
Today, measuring hard surfaces on individual properties remains the standard for cities across the country and BES continues to follow this best practice. Types of impervious surface include rooftops, traditional asphalt and concrete parking lots, driveways, roads, sidewalks and pedestrian plazas.
There are two charges on my bill: “on-site” and “off-site.” What do they mean?
BES bills every customer two separate stormwater charges: one for stormwater from private property (on-site) and one for the stormwater we manage in the public right-of-way (off-site).
The on-site charge is for stormwater on private property. All customers within the drainage districts (Multnomah County Drainage District, Peninsula 1 Drainage District, and Peninsula 2 Drainage District) are exempt from the on-site charge. Customers outside the drainage districts can be exempted from part or all of the on-site charge through a program called Clean River Rewards. You can learn more about the program, get helpful tips for your home or business, find eligibility requirements, and apply at cleanriverrewards.com.
The off-site charge is for stormwater on public property like streets and sidewalks. Because we all use and benefit from public property, there is no off-site discount or exemption program.
Why did bills change for some property owners in 2013?
From 2000 to 2013, local drainage districts billed district customers directly.
In 2013, the City and drainage districts agreed that BES would take over the responsibility for billing, and properties in the drainage districts would be automatically exempt from the on-site charge. Since July 1, 2016, after a four-year phase-in, all customers are now billed by BES.
Why did bills change for some property owners in 2015?
In 2015, BES began the Measure/Re-Measure Program. With newer, more precise mapping technology, BES can update property measurements to make sure customers are billed accurately and fairly.
Some properties were previously under-measured, others were over-estimated. This means that bills for some property owners increased while others decreased. The Measure/Re-Measure Program reviews properties city wide on an ongoing basis to maintain high standards for accuracy.
What can I do if I think my property was measured inaccurately?
When BES re-measures a property, we provide the property owner with aerial maps and a direct point of contact.
If you would like more information, contact Eli Rosborough at 503-823-5745.
1940: Portland first charges for public sewer use.
1977: Bureau of Environmental Services created. City studies how to bill customers for stormwater management.
1999: City Council directs BES to create two separate stormwater charges: one for the public right-of-way (off-site charge) and one for private property (on-site charge); both charges are intended to be applied to all properties in Portland.
2000: Based upon an independent study, Portland City Council sets the on-site charge at 35% and the off-site charge at 65% of the total stormwater management charge. City signs an agreement with drainage districts within city limits: drainage districts will bill property owners directly and pay a portion of the fees to the City. Portland City Council eliminates stormwater fee exceptions for properties that discharge stormwater directly into Willamette River, Columbia River or Columbia Slough.
2006: BES creates an incentive program, Clean River Rewards; up to 100% of on-site charges are discounted for customers who take simple steps like disconnecting their downspout. More information here: cleanriverrewards.com
2013: City and local drainage districts create a new agreement. BES will directly bill property owners and the change will be phased in over 4 years.
2015: BES launches the Measure/Re-Measure Program to update impervious areas citywide using new mapping technology; to date, the program has updated over 750 measurement across the city.
Stormwater Billing for Properties Over Water
I own property over water and my property isn’t connected to the public system. Why does the City bill me for stormwater management?
The City is responsible for stormwater management in all areas of the city, including places with over-water structures.
Because everyone benefits from city-wide stormwater management, like keeping public streets clear of flooding, all property owners help share the cost of stormwater management.
When were surfaces over water included in BES stormwater billing?
In April 2000, City Council ended all automatic exemptions for off-site stormwater charges in order to ensure that all property owners are being billed fairly for services we all benefit from. Properties not connected to the public system still benefit from off-site stormwater management.
What is the average stormwater charge for a floating home for both the on-site and off-site components in the City of Portland?
Floating homes are not billed individually. BES bills the account holder which is often the floating home association, that in turn passes that cost on to individual homeowners. Other customers billed in this manner include condo associations and apartment complexes.
Customers in a drainage district and customers who receive a 100% discount through Clean River Rewards do not pay any on-site stormwater fees. The typical on-site charge for a floating home is $0 per month.
The average off-site stormwater charge (paid by all ratepayers) for a floating home is approximately $15 per month. Like all other properties, off-site charges for floating home communities are measured by the total size of hard surface, including rooftops and parking areas on land.
For comparison, the typical single-family residential ratepayer pays approximately $18 per month for the off-site charge, and approximately $10 per month for the on-site portion.