Many towns and cities across the U.S. experienced power outages and damageas a result of last week’s winter storm. The northern half of Oregon was similarly affected, with Portland receiving almost 10 inches of snow and ice.
As the heavy accumulations of winter precipitation piled up on the roads, trees came down throughout the city causing power outages as they fell on electric lines. A combined total of over 300,000 homes and businesses between Portland and Eugene are reported to have lost power.
Electricity used to power several of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services wastewater pumping stations was also lost, causing potential releases of sewage into the Willamette River. The BES is now warning city residents to avoid contact with water from the Willamette, as humans may contract illnesses or disease from fecal material in sewage that mixes with river water.
Though the Portland BES invested $1.4 billion a decade ago to enhance its wastewater systems’abilities to handle storm flows during rain events, the system is still reliant on electricity. While BES reports the new wastewater pipes have been found to be highly effective in handling increased storm runoff, no information can be found as to why back-up power generators were not included in the enhancement project.
Pump stations were left powerless and as of yesterday, still inaccessible due to poor road conditions. The BES did note that because they have not been able to access the four pumping stations, they are unsure of if or how much sewage may have entered the river, and the warning to avoid the Willamette was issued “out of an abundance of caution.”