Portland District encompasses nearly 97,000 square miles of land and water in Oregon and southwestern Washington. The District's future is tied to helping to balance the region's competing needs for navigation, flood damage reduction, hydropower, fish and wildlife habitat, disaster recovery, irrigation and recreation.
Portland District operates navigation locks on the 465-mile-long Columbia-Snake Inland Waterway and maintains over 720 miles of federal navigation channels and harbors. More than 30 million tons of cargo pass through District ports and locks each year.
Flood damage reduction has improved since the days when the Willamette and the Columbia overflowed their banks almost yearly, laying watery waste to whole communities. Although the 1996 flood devastated many areas of Oregon and Washington, it would have been much worse if the Corps hadn't been able to store water behind their dams as it poured into the rivers from uncontrolled tributaries. District flood damage reduction projects--a $1.2 billion investment--have already prevented $15.8 billion in flood damages.
With 22 multiple-purpose projects, Portland District produces 60 percent of the region's hydropower to meet the growing demands of public and private utilities, cities and industry. District projects also provide opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, picnicking, and camping.
Corps reservoirs supply irrigation for local farmers and supplement municipal and industrial water needs. But as progress claims more land, habitat for fish and wildlife suffers. Portland District regulates work in water and fragile wetland areas along waterways and in wildlife habitat to preserve the environment. The Corps also controls water released from the dams to protect natural habitats during periods of fluctuating flows.
The Corps has a standing mission to provide engineering support in response to major disasters, such as the California earthquakes and Hurricane Andrew. When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, the effects on water quality and on the natural recovery of fish, wildlife and plant species were of primary concern in the Corps' response. After the Exxon Valdez ran aground, District dredges recovered nearly 400,000 gallons of oil from the waters of Alaska's Prince William Sound. Corps teams also were able to provide expert rehabilitation support to the Philippine people after the 1993 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.
The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 authorized the Corps to modify its existing projects for environmental improvement. Changes have ranged from the use of dredged material to create nesting sites for waterfowl, to modification of water control structures to improve downstream water quality for fisheries. Portland District environmental efforts range from large wetlands restoration projects like construction of waterfowl impoundment areas at Fern Ridge Lake, to helping save a small plant like the pink sand verbena or a small creature like the western pond turtle.
The biggest challenge Portland District faces may well be that of helping fish pass through the dams safely. Since the 1950s, the Corps has spent more than $70 million researching ways to protect anadromous (migratory) fish in the Columbia-Snake River system. The District has built and funds eight fish hatcheries, and every aspect of upstream and downstream passage is being evaluated. Models of Columbia River projects, like those at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss., are helping the Corps find answers and make changes that will work for fish.