History of Portland sewers

The history of Portland, Oregon, began in 1843 on the Willamette River in what was then called Oregon Country. In 1845 the name of Portland was chosen for this community and on February 8, 1851, the city was incorporated.

In 1889, The Oregonian called Portland “the most, filthy city in the North west due to the unsanitary sewers and gutters.

Portland’s first sewer was a covered wooden trough that ran from Southwest Montgomery ST to Fourth Avenue then to the Willamette River. Built in 1864

This simple system collected sewage from homes and businesses directly to the river. Over the following years, the collection system grew. By 1883, it had grown to 15 miles of terracotta pipe ranging in diameter from 6 to 18 inches. By 1933, larger pipes made of concrete or brick extended the system to 1,100 miles of pipe that went directly into the Willamette River.

In the early 20th century, public concerns about water pollution and public health increased. In 1927 tests showed that the Willamette River was severely polluted. By the mid-1930s, salmon fingerlings placed in the river died within 15 minutes. The untreated sewage also carried disease-causing bacteria and other contaminants into the river.

Portland school children held a rally outside City Hall in 1938 to demand cleanup of the river. Later that year, Oregon voters passed the Water Purification and Prevention of Pollution Bill. A newly established State Sanitary Authority began to enact wastewater treatment requirements for both cities and industries.

Portland’s sewers, constructed in the late 19th century, combined sewage and storm water in the same pipes and carried the wastewater directly to the Willamette River and Columbia Slough without treatment. In 1952, new interceptor pipes began collecting sewage from the combined sewers for conveyance to Portland’s first sewage treatment plant. Portland older neighbor hoods have a sewer system that mixes untreated sewage and storm water runoff in a single pipe. During very heavy rain storms, run off from buildings, streets, and other hard surfaces can fill these combined sewers to capacity and cause them to overflow untreated sewage to the river.