City of Portland, Bureau of Environmental Services: Downspout Disconnection Program

The City of Portland needed to increase the number of households voluntarily disconnecting their downspouts to avoid intervention by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The involvement of the EPA would have mandated disconnections in this geographic area.

Metropolitan Group held focus groups and conducted research to determine public perception and willingness in North and Northeast Portland to disconnect their downspouts in order to reduce the amount of water overflow in this area’s sewer system.

Then MG developed and helped to implement an innovative communication plan to educate and motivate homeowners—including owner occupants and absentee landlords—to disconnect their downspouts. Tools and incentives included redesigned outreach materials, grassroots community outreach, water bill communications, earned media, public service announcements, direct mail, retail partnerships and in-store promotions; community “how to” classes and workshops, and awareness-building community banners.

Between 1993 and 2011, Portland’s Downspout Disconnection Program disconnected over 56,000 downspouts from the city’s combined sewer system. The many property owners and volunteers who helped disconnect downspouts over the years served to remove over 1.3 billion gallons of storm water from Portland’s combined sewer system each year. As a result, the EPA has not intervened due to the increase in voluntary disconnects.