Portland’s water rates are notoriously high, despite our rainy reputation. It comes down to dealing with all of that water once it hits the ground. Cities are exceptionally good at shedding water. All of the roofs, roads, parking lots, and concrete lead to large volumes of dirty, sandy storm runoff that washes through our drainpipes to meet up with our sewage- the two occasionally paying a visit to our beloved Willamette River if there’s too much to deal with. Treating all of that waste water gets pricey, and that’s where our high rates come in.
Portland’s Green Streets Program is an attempt to mitigate both the issues of sewage overflow, and cost when it comes to storm water management. The program involves digging up swaths of roads, parking lots, and other impervious areas to make a “mini-wetland”, so that the water can absorb into the ground instead of sweeping right into the sewers pipes, many of which happen to be falling apart. These bioswales can save millions of dollars (for the city and residents), beautify the streets, and clean the air, cool down the city (by relieving the “heat-island effect”), and even calm traffic. Despite the these amazing benefits, there is some opposition to the decisions to the use of public funds for these projects, which made the front page of the Portland Tribune.
But from an aquatic ecology standpoint, these bioswales are great. They create mini-habitats around the city, and most importantly, they clean the water. PSU’s Yeakley lab found 80% less heavy metals in the water that passes through the swales. This means cleaner water going into our streams, and dampened flow peaks during big storms. Cleaner and more stable streams means healthier stream life. We’re on board with that!