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Port of Portland Integrated Stormwater Master Plan

It’s All in the Implementation

Founded in 1891, the Port of Portland is the port district responsible for the management of Portland International Airport (PDX) as well as marine activities in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area. GS&P has served as a trusted advisor to the organization for more than a decade and has worked on multiple projects for the client, including the implementation of an enhanced deicer management system at PDX.

From 2012 to 2015, GS&P led the creation of the Port’s 20-year master plan for management of stormwater, which was driven by regulatory, operational and future development considerations.

“The Port of Portland has nine diverse facilities—PDX, four marine terminals and four industrial facilities,” explains senior environmental engineer and principal-in-charge Tim Arendt. “This project grew out of the client’s need to address some existing ponding issues at PDX, as well as their desire to create a uniform means of implementing stormwater management features in the future.

“The Port’s overarching goal for the project was to integrate seemingly disparate elements of stormwater management into each of the facilities, which presented a huge coordination and technical challenge. GS&P was selected by the client because we have a history of successfully executing extremely complex projects for them that were in a similar technical area. They also liked the fact that we brought a strategic, long-term vision to the table.”

Developing an Integrated Master Plan


One of the most ambitious stormwater master planning efforts ever attempted by an owner of airport and marine port facilities, the comprehensive project would cover more than 6,000 acres of Port of Portland property. It required extensive coordination between GS&P and the Port’s operations, maintenance, safety, environmental, development, engineering, finance, legal, and asset management departments to define their stormwater management issues and needs.

The Port established individual project goals at the outset, which GS&P helped refine by shaping various stormwater management drivers into a focused plan for implementation that supported the client’s current operations as well as future development.

“Having a strong relationship and open lines of communication with the client was key to the project’s success,” explains environmental engineer Tom Dietrich. “It not only helped us acquire critical information but also allowed us to vet the various processes and outputs so they were actually relevant and useful.”

“Given the project’s scope and complexity, it was also critical to have the right team in place,” adds Arendt. “This was a massive undertaking that involved multiple needs and tasks. As lead, we recognized the value of utilizing the most qualified subconsultants on this type of project. So we brought a number of strategic partners on board, including Geosyntec Consultants and HDR, to help cover all of the major pieces.”

To keep the multifaceted project on track, GS&P’s team utilized a matrix structure with a common set of tasks applied to each of the nine Port facilities. These included a thorough review of stormwater infrastructure data, stormwater characteristics and regulatory standards, the development of stormwater flow and quality models, and the preparation of asset management plans, stormwater design standards and stormwater master plans.

“Gathering data was one of our very first tasks,” says Dietrich. “This involved digging deep into the Port’s information database. We explored numerous areas, including their existing regulatory requirements and future compliance issues. We also reviewed a large amount of GIS data as well as past construction plans. This supporting work ultimately resulted in five main work products that came together to form the Integrated Stormwater Master Plan.”

Establishing the foundation for the Port’s future efforts, the five principal work products comprised: stormwater master plans; a stormwater design standards manual; stormwater asset management plans; stormwater models; and a regulatory compliance strategy and plans. 

“It’s easy to develop plans that just sit on a shelf and never get used,” says Arendt. “Our goal was to deliver useful work products to the client that could be implemented in their everyday operations at the different facilities. The products we developed address the Port’s regulatory needs, but they also allow the client to fully integrate stormwater management into their short- and long-term planning and operations as opposed to taking a project-by-project approach.”


Collaborative Action


Collaboration was a vital element in the project’s execution and in the Port’s improved process for managing stormwater in the future. Arendt explains:

“Extensive collaboration was not only needed between the GS&P team and the client but also among and between the various Port departments, facilities, tenants and outside entities, including multiple government agencies and local environmental interest groups.”

Monthly multidepartment meetings held throughout the three-year period supported this cooperative effort.

“Those recurring meetings were critical during the execution phase,” says Arendt. “We came together with the various stakeholders to discuss the stormwater management needs of each department, decided on criteria for defining the extent to which those needs would be solved, and evaluated potential solutions. We also established procedures in the Stormwater Design Standards Manual to facilitate interaction between those selecting and designing stormwater management measures and Port of Portland staff responsible for overall stormwater management.”

Collaborative actions for ongoing stormwater management included regular coordination between the Port of Portland, the City of Portland and the Multnomah Country Drainage District, which share certain stormwater management responsibilities. GS&P also worked with the client on a regular basis to support decision-making on stormwater regulations, stormwater model use, and implementation of stormwater management measures.

“One of the things that raised the bar on this project was how closely we worked with the client," says Arendt. "We made regular visits to their offices for a week at a time and spent that full week meeting with the various departments to review the project’s direction and discuss their needs. Operating airport and marine terminals is an extremely complex enterprise. Having that open forum not only gave us a great perspective but also provided an opportunity for the Port’s different facilities to understand each other’s needs.”


Just the Facts


Sustainability and green infrastructure were also taken into consideration as part of the master planning effort, with GS&P evaluating a wide range of water quality and quantity best management practices (BMPs) with green components for possible use in future stormwater development.

“We created BMP fact sheets that identified if a BMP included elements of green infrastructure, low-impact development or general sustainability,” explains Arendt. “We coordinated the work with the Port’s general sustainability plan to make sure sustainable elements of stormwater management were consistent between both. I believe the project as a whole has given the client a broader sense of what they need to do from a compliance standpoint regarding environmental regulations.”

To promote the efficient implementation of stormwater management measures without having to sift through detailed technical information, GS&P also developed cross-referenced fact sheets for more than 30 stormwater management needs and solutions to be used during future project planning and design. 

“Another key success factor was taking an extremely complicated analysis and presenting it to the client in a way that was accessible and implementable,” says Arendt. “We took what we referred to as a ‘rip and run’ approach to the master plan. We gave the Port fact sheets that identified and described stormwater issues they were experiencing and presented corresponding short-term and long-term solutions to those issues. Within the next 20 years, when they need to address a specific issue, the client can simply pull out this three- or four-page document and see a concise description of the issue and its root cause, along with a description of the solution, risk mitigation strategies, schedule recommendations and cost estimates.”


Moving the Dial


Setting the standard for a variety of projects over the next 20 years, GS&P’s Integrated Stormwater Master Plan provided the Port of Portland with effective, targeted plans for long-term stormwater management that are now an integral part of the their planning, operational, maintenance and project implementation processes. The facility-wide plan’s principal work products will reduce the client’s future safety and operational risks, provide specific information for the long-term capital planning process, and provide confidence that innumerable applicable regulations will be met in the foreseeable future.

“When most entities address stormwater management issues, the issues are often assessed one at time, in a limited area, and sometimes only after a problem has arisen. This often results in incomplete work, significant assumptions, unintended consequences and additional costs,” notes Arendt. “With this effort, GS&P and the Port of Portland formed a true partnership to create an integrated approach to stormwater management that standardizes their protocols and provides flexibility to meet the current and future needs of the nine different facilities.”

“I believe this project has ‘moved the dial’ at the Port,” says Susan Aha, Water Quality Manager at the Port of Portland. “It has raised awareness levels and dialogue about storm system issues within the organization, and will enable us to begin asset management planning for the storm system. It has also been very influential within the Port in demonstrating the importance, benefits and value of planning for utility systems.” 


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Project Info

  • Client: Port of Portland
  • Location: Portland, OR, USA
  • Market: Water + Environment
  • Services: Water and Wastewater
  • Team:
    • Thomas L. Dietrich, P.E., LEED AP BD+C PROJECT MANAGER
    • Melanie C. Knecht, P.E., ENV SP PROJECT PROFESSIONAL
    • Mark R. Ervin, P.E.
    • Liz A. Miller, EI
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