Need for improved

Management & Funding

"Diking Project Reclaims 700 Acres" newspaper article from 1917 when drainage districts are first established
Newspaper article from the early 1920s as landowners construct initial levees.


In 1917, four independent drainage districts were set up to drain the land for agricultural purposes. They took on the responsibility of operating and maintaining the 27-mile levee system along the Columbia River in Multnomah County after it was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1930s. Although they’ve done the best they can, the drainage districts were not designed to manage large urban flood safety infrastructure and operating under the same legal framework put in place over a century ago, has led to a number of challenges. including:

  • it's inefficient
    four individual districts are not needed to manage one, interconnected infrastructure system
  • it's unsustainable
    the drainage districts were not set up to manage a large urban flood safety system and are unable to meet shifting federal standards under the current governance and revenue structures
  • it's inequitable
    the current revenue structure is limited and does not account for all of the services that are delivered or the benefits received
  • it's outdated
    the drainage districts governing statute does not allow them to take a holistic approach to floodplain management
  • it's exclusive
    the way leadership is elected is antiquated and leaves people out of the process
"Diking Project Reclaims 700 Acres" newspaper article from 1917 when drainage districts are first established
Newspaper article from the early 1920s as landowners construct initial levees.

A more efficient, modern, and equitable management structure has been created

After several years of  research and discussion, the LRC partners worked with local state legislators to introduce legislation to reform and modernize the way the local levee system is managed and to make a more robust set of financial tools available to support the system going forward. The State Legislature almost unanimously passed the legislation and it was signed into law by the Governor in late July 2019.

This new structure has been designed to:

  • Meet long-term flood safety needs and shifting federal standards;
  • Create a less fragmented framework for management and decision-making
  • Provide for a more equitable distribution of costs based on services and benefits received;
  • Allow for improved environmental stewardship along the levees and drainageways, which is currently prohibited under the drainage district structure; and
  • Create a more democratic and transparent selection process for board members in which significantly more people have a voice.

Hear more about the new management structure from our convener, Jules Bailey, during his testimony to the Senate Committee on Environment & Natural Resources on February 19, 2019:

What's Next

This new district will have two different board configurations at different times. First, an initial 17-member board will be responsible for organizing the district and setting up a sustainable revenue structure. Once the revenue structure is in place, the initial board can call for the dissolution of the four existing drainage districts. At that point, the initial board will begin to transition to a permanent structure of 9 board members who are responsible for the ongoing oversight of the district.

Explore the authorizing legislation:

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what else would be possible with improved funding and oversight structures

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