KOIN 6: When the levee breaks – Portland’s now 60 years old

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When the levee breaks: Portland’s now 60 years old

By Trevor Ault, published on August 23, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Columbia River levee system protects more than $5 billion worth of property from flooding– thousands of homes, Portland International Airport, the city’s backup water supply.

But some lawmakers say the system isn’t good enough, and upgrades are needed before it’s too late.

The nation’s leading flood-control experts have gathered in downtown Portland for the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies convention.

“We’ve got a 60-year-old levee system and it’s shown a little age,” Multnomah County Commissioner Jules Bailey said. “What we’re seeing nationally is, obviously, the importance of having really strong flood protection and levee systems here.”

The group is spending the week discussing important water issues– including flood control– an issue directly impacting Portland: A 2014 engineering assessment found a stretch of the Columbia River levee was unsafe under new standards.

NAFSMA Treasurer Mark Pestrella told KOIN 6 News by gathering as a nationwide group, local projects like the Portland levee have a better chance of getting a federal focus.

“We’re greater together than alone,” Pestrella said. “National standard, again, is determined by our Congress, with a lot of influence from local agencies, and that’s really what we’re proposing to do here.”

Right now leaders of the Levee Ready Columbia project are in the engineering phase, trying to determine just how much of an upgrade our levee needs.

Commissioner Bailey says for now, the levees are working but we can’t wait around until they don’t.

Too often government or public policy waits until the disaster happens, and then there’s a lot of finger pointing, and we say what could we have done,” Bailey said. “We’re getting out in front of this.”


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