December 01, 2011

Public Works that Work

I've been reading a great book called The Big Thirst about water and what it takes to have clean drinking water available 24x7. I plan to do a full review of this book soon, but it seemed in light of this subject appropriate to congratulate Portland for the completion of the 20 year project designed to clean up the Willamette River by preventing sewage run-off from large storms from flowing into the river.

In the United States we expect to have good, clean, drinkable water 24 hours a day, every day of the week. But we need to invest in the infrastructure to make this possible. And these days, when people like Grover Norquist are trying to drown government in a bathtub, it is refreshing to see that places like Portland are investing in public works that ensure our quality of life and the quality of our river. And as a city and a region that is known for investing in the right things, it is really nice to know that this project was completed on-time and under-budget. The salmon that navigate the Willamette to spawn in the creeks and streams feeding into the Willamette will find the river a healthier and better place in which to entrust their future descendents. And Portlanders will enjoy swimming or kayaking in the river even after big storms pass because they have invested in ensuring the quality of the water that runs off into their river for now and decades into the future.

Here's a great summary that describes the project from the Oregonian.

  1. Who's paying for the project? You are. The series of projects to limit combined sewage overflow is being funded through debt being repaid by Portland residents through rate increases. Average monthly rates in 2001 were $30. Next year, they'll be more than $53, a 77 percent increase. They're expected to hit nearly $69 by 2016.
  2. Where's the money going? In addition to the eastside pipe, a series of new "cornerstone" projects divert stormwater away from sewers, at a cost of about $145 million. A new east-west tunnel along Columbia Boulevard, completed in 2001, ran about $160 million. And the westside Big Pipe and pump station, finished in 2006, cost about $410 million.
  3. What about the east side? That's the biggest and most expensive part, with costs of about $640 million. Of that, the Big Pipe portion is budgeted at about $433 million, although officials say it could come in about 10 percent under budget.
  4. So is the Big Pipe really that big? Yes. Portions on the west side are 14 feet in diameter. On the east side, traveling through a 22-foot-diameter pipe on the train feels almost like a subway ride.
  5. So there's a Big Pipe and a Bigger Pipe? Pretty much. But officials call them the same thing, at least when communicating with ratepayers. "It's one of those things that drives the engineers nuts, but the public-involvement people love the catchy name," said Bill Ryan, chief engineer for the Environmental Services Bureau.
  6. And all this does what? It'll limit the amount of untreated sewer and stormwater that spills into the Willamette River. Pipes below old Portland neighborhoods mix sewer and rainwater. When it rains, overflow goes straight into the river. The new system will divert water in the Big Pipe to a treatment plant in North Portland. During storms, water will fill the entire Big Pipe, traveling at a minimum rate of 4 feet per second.
  7. How did we build the Big Pipe? The city contracted with Kiewit-Bilfinger Berger, a two-company partnership. Kiewit Construction has a district office in Vancouver, and Bilfinger Berger is a German company. Saltzman said about 600 subcontractors have worked on the project.
  8. How did they move so much earth? The Big Pipe itself is the direct byproduct of a 220-foot-long tunnel-boring machine that dug about 60 feet a day. Officials nicknamed her Rosie. And if she has a name, surely, she must have a Twitter account. Last month, Rosie tweeted: "I've enjoyed my time tunneling around Portland. But it's nice to be done with such a big job."

Good job, Portland! We who live along the Willamette River give our congratulations.

Posted by Mary at December 1, 2011 03:27 PM | Environment | Technorati links |

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