PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A city spokesman says about 2,400 gallons of sewage has overflowed from a public toilet in Portland's Waterfront Park and drained into the Willamette River in the downtown area, according to the Associated Press.
This comes as heavy rains in the Portland metro area cause sewage and stormwater across the city to overflow into the Willamette River Thursday morning.
The Bureau of Environmental Services also reported three outfall pipes began to overflow at about 2 a.m.
The overflows occurred north of the Morrison Bridge, at the Burnside Bridge and just north of the Fremont Bridge. A "big pipe" project completed in 2012 drastically decreased the number of overflows -- from an average of 50 a year in the early 1990s to less than five as a result of the big pipe work. However, the larger pipe hasn't completely stopped them.
"We've spent hundreds of millions of dollars and I think the public's expectation was there would be no more sewage overflow when we get heavy rain events like that in the river," said Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. "It works but it doesn't work one hundred percent of the time."
The biggest underground sewage pipes are 22 feet in diameter. That's large enough for a TriMet bus to drive through, but not big enough to accommodate the sewage and rain from the past two days.
"The other thing that this highlights is that we need to keep doing things to prevent the total volume from increasing," Hales said.
Those other things include building more areas that soak rainwater from rooftops and city streets into the ground -- diverting more rainwater toward streams and in the process keeping it out of the sewer system.
"Our thinking about this has evolved," Hales said. "And we're trying to use new and more natural approaches to avoid overloading the system."
As for the public toilet overflow, Spokesman Linc Mann told the Associated Press grease was blocking that sewer pipe. Maintenance workers stopped the release and cleared the line Thursday.
Citing "elevated bacteria levels" following these spill overs, the city is warning people to avoid contact with the Willamette River water north of Portland's Morrison, Burnside, Fremont and Hawthorne bridges through Friday.
Students at Stephenson Elementary in Southwest Portland will return to class Wednesday, two days after water from broken pipes flooded their school.
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