The city of Portland uses green streets with off-curb greenery to help improve water quality and reduce the risk of urban flooding.
The city of Portland uses "green streets" with off-curb greenery to help improve water quality and reduce the risk of urban flooding. CITY OF PORTLAND

Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) is falling behind on tracking of its watershed restoration and flood prevention projects, according to an audit released Tuesday by the city auditor's office.

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Auditors found that Portland does not have a comprehensive plan to identify areas that are prone to flooding and pollution, fails to consistently report on project results, and does not regularly maintain and inspect its many projects. The bureau spent $13 million on these projects this year alone.

The audit specifically focuses on watershed restoration projects, in which BES staff plant native vegetation and excavates land to create wetlands, so as to improve water quality and reduce pollution in that area. The report also focuses on so-called “green streets”—roads that include off-curb green areas that work to filter out pollution and reduce the risk of flooding.

BES’ own protocol calls for green street inspection each spring and fall. But according to the audit report, 53 percent of Portland's green streets (usually contained to several blocks—not the entire length of a street) were not inspected last spring. Additionally, the audit finds that some 36 percent of the city’s over 2,000 green streets might not have been necessary to create in the first place.

Kari Guy, the director of audit services, said that one way to improve BES’ handling of both watershed restoration projects and green streets would be to put together a stormwater system plan, which would look at the projects on a city-wide scale, rather than single, isolated projects.

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BES originally committed to completing that kind of plan by 2016, which was extended to 2017. That deadline has since been bumped to 2028.

“[The stormwater systems plan] has been in process since 2010,” Guy said. “It’s been ongoing for a long time, and the bureau’s really had trouble meeting some of the commitments it’s laid out.”

In its official reply to the audit, BES committed to completing parts of a stormwater systems plan, including new citywide stormwater risks maps, by next year.