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The City of Portland, Oregon

Environmental Services

working for clean rivers

Phone: 503-823-7740

Fax: 503-823-6995

MAILING ADDRESS: 1120 SW 5th Ave, Room 1000, Portland, OR 97204

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Willamette (Mainstem) Report Card

Photo of kayakers on Willamette River near Willamette Park

UPDATED: October 2019

This is a summary of conditions in the Willamette River Watershed based on data from the 2019 Watershed Health Index. The scores are a snapshot of conditions across the entire watershed. Conditions can vary in smaller parts of the watershed.

This report card covers the mainstem area of the Willamette River through Portland, as well as a portion of Portland’s land area that does not first drain to another local watershed, such as Johnson Creek or the Willamette’s tributary streams in the southwest and northwest hills.

Link to introduction page

Learn more about the Willamette Watershed program and projects


Willamette River (Mainstem) Hydrology Score: C-

Portland is at the lower end of the Willamette River watershed, so things like upstream dams, riverfront development in the floodplain, and agricultural runoff affect our section of the river but are out of the city’s control.

In Portland, parking lots, roofs and streets prevent rain from soaking into the ground and recharging groundwater supplies. Projects like From Neighborhood to the River are improving stormwater management and allowing more stormwater to soak in. They also reduce basement sewer backups and help control sewer overflows to the river.

 

How to read the scales  
What is this?
Effective impervious area
Effective impervious area: 4.1
4.1
What is this?
Stream connectivity
Not applicable
 

Willamette River (Mainstem) Water Quality Score: B

Until Portland activated the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant in 1952, all of the city’s untreated sewage flowed directly to the Willamette River and Columbia Slough. Water quality is much better today, especially since 2011 when the city finished controlling combined sewer overflows caused by rain storms.

Because of these sewer improvements, E. coli bacteria levels are low, and the river is safe for recreation for most of the year. Nitrogen-ammonia scores are also good in the Willamette and other Portland watersheds. However, water quality concerns remain for the river. Water that is too warm is bad news for migrating fish, and even small amounts of pollutants like copper can harm salmon. Note that this report card does not include every pollutant that flows into the river, like pesticides, personal care products, and pharmaceuticals.

Portland is at the downstream end of the Willamette River and has little control over most water quality issues in the river. Much of the work to improve water quality in Portland focuses on our local streams that have significant water quality challenges and regulations. Portland’s streams all flow to the Willamette, so improving water quality in those tributaries protects water quality in the river.

These scores are for water quality only, not pollutants in river sediment. The 10-mile section of the Willamette in Portland known as Portland Harbor is a federal Superfund site because the sediment is contaminated with PCBs, DDT, petroleum, and other pollutants.

 

How to read the scales

 
What is this? Ammonia-nitrogen Ammonia-nitrogen: 9.8
9.8
What is this?
Dissolved copper
Dissolved copper: 8.6
8.6
What is this?
Dissolved oxygen
Dissolved oxygen: 8.1
8.1
What is this?
E. coli
E. coli: 8.8
8.8
What is this? Temperature Temperature: 1.5
1.5
What is this?
Total mercury
Total mercury: 2.7
2.7
What is this?
Total phosphorus
Total phosphorus: 8.0
8.0
What is this?
Total suspended solids
Total suspended solids: 6.9
6.9

Willamette River (Mainstem) Habitat Score: D+

Habitat scores are low for the Willamette River in Portland because of generations of development along the river, filling in the floodplain, and hardening banks with a seawall and riprap. The loss of off-channel habitat and impacts of urban development are hard to reverse. That’s why restoring the habitat that we can, such as at the Stephens Creek Confluence and the Tryon Creek Confluence, is important for supporting fish and wildlife. Recent restoration at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and Powers Marine Park may improve scores in the future.

The tree canopy score is low because of development and lack of trees in the Central City and industrial areas. Recent tree planting projects have focused on the Central Eastside and Northwest Industrial area. Where there is not room for large trees, ecoroofs are a good way to add habitat and manage stormwater.

The Willamette River through Portland is accessible to migratory fish, but it lacks shallow areas where salmon can rest and feed.

  How to read the scales
What is this? Bank condition (hardening) Bank condition:  0
0
What is this? Floodplain condition Floodplain condition: 2.8 2.8
What is this? Large wood Not applicable  
What is this? Riparian integrity Riparian integrity: 2.5
2.5
 What is this? Shallow water refugia Shallow water refugia: 4.1 4.1
What is this?
Stream accessibility  Stream accessibility: 9.4 9.4
What is this? Substrate composition Not applicable  
What is this?
Tree canopy
Tree canopy: 5.0
5.0

Willamette River (Mainstem) Fish and Wildlife Score: Under developmentWe are still developing these scores for the mainstem Willamette because analyzing the data for a large river is different than for smaller streams. The Willamette has many native fish and wildlife species. Fifteen species of salmon and steelhead trout found in Portland are federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. For more information about fish, birds, and other wildlife in Portland, visit the Environmental Services Science Integration Division.

What is this? Birds Under development  
What is this?
Fish
Under development
 
What is this?
Macroinvertebrates
Not applicable
 

For more information about what we measure and where these scores come from, visit the About Watershed Report Cards page.

See some of what Environmental Services is doing for healthy rivers and streams on the Explore Portland’s Watersheds map.