American Rivers names Portland one of nation’s top ‘water wise’ communities

Report shows how Portland is using sustainable water strategies to prepare for climate change

September 17th, 2009

<P>Amy Kober, 206-213-0330 x23 or Will Hewes, 202-347-7550</P>

Washington, DC — American Rivers today named Portland as one of the nation’s top “water wise” communities protecting clean water and public health with innovative green solutions. Portland was chosen for its admirable response to sewage and stormwater overflows. The report, “Natural Security: how sustainable water strategies are preparing communities for a changing climate,” comes as Congress is gearing up to consider a climate bill including so-called “adaptation measures” that will help communities get ready for the floods, droughts, and waterborne diseases that come with global warming.

“We are at a transformational moment for our nation’s rivers and water infrastructure, and Portland is forging the path to a healthier, more secure future,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.

In response to stormwater runoff and sewer overflows that have long degraded water quality and threatened public health, Portland integrated a number of green infrastructure solutions with expanded sewer and stormwater pipes. The city’s “green street,” eco-roof, and downspout disconnection programs, while still in early stages, currently capture 15 percent of the city’s annual stormwater runoff and have potential to absorb 80 percent. By 2011, Portland’s investments will reduce sewage overflows by 96 percent. Green infrastructure will provide the added capacity and flexibility to minimize stormwater problems and protect public health, even as extreme storms grow more frequent and intense in a changing climate.

Other water-smart communities include:

• Boston, Massachusetts protected wetlands along the Charles River and as a result saves $40 million in flood damage every year.
• Clayton County, Georgia beat the drought with an innovative water recycling system.
• Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved 49 homes and businesses out of the floodplain to higher ground, and now enjoys better protection from floods.
• Staten Island, New York uses streams and wetlands to help transport and treat stormwater runoff.
• Seattle, Washington’s embrace of water conservation and efficiency has reduced per capita water use 33 percent since 1990.
• Augusta, Maine is enjoying improved water quality, healthier fish and wildlife and better recreation, thanks to the 1999 removal of Edwards Dam.
• Grand Junction, Colorado is cleaning up and reclaiming its rivers as social, economic, and recreational amenities.

“These cities recognize that there is more to water infrastructure than big pipes, dams and levees. They see the value of natural infrastructure like healthy rivers, forests, and wetlands and they are proving that by helping nature, we actually help ourselves. The successes of these water-smart communities prove that green solutions like floodplain restoration and water efficiency are often cheaper, more reliable, and more effective than traditional approaches,” Wodder said.

Even with the most aggressive and successful greenhouse gas reduction efforts, climate change will have profound impacts on the nation’s communities. These impacts will hit rivers and freshwater first and worst.  Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will threaten both the quality and quantity of water supplies for drinking, agriculture, and municipal use. Floods will become more frequent and severe. Drought-induced wildfires will threaten communities. The risk of waterborne diseases will rise.

Each of the communities showcased in “Natural Security” is reaping the benefits of green infrastructure – an approach to water management that works with nature, not against it, and has three critical components:

1. Protect healthy landscapes, like forests and small streams, that naturally sustain clean water supplies.

2. Restore degraded landscapes like floodplains and wetlands so they can better store flood water and recharge streams and aquifers.

3. Repair natural water systems in urban settings to capture and use water more wisely, and prevent stormwater and sewage pollution.

“We need a fundamental shift in the way our country manages water,” said Wodder. “This report provides a blueprint for how communities can make the shift away from expensive, unreliable, outdated approaches of the past and toward 21st century solutions that benefit people and the environment.”


About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

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