The Silver Lining

A bold downsprout design makes winter’s deluge…fun?

By Georgia Perry December 22, 2010 Published in the January 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

EVERY YEAR, the average-size Portland roof sloughs off 22,500 gallons of rainwater. Downspouts send much of that flood tide straight to the sewers, which sometimes overflow into the poor Willamette River. While many Portlanders simply redirect downspouts into their yards, more creative management can provide a rare psychological victory over the vindictive Weather Gods. (You may reign o’er us—but you will never defeat our tasteful native plant gardens!) In that spirit, we salute one of the city’s most ingenious downspouts, at the N Williams Avenue headquarters of the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Some key features:

A design by pioneering Seattle downspout artist Buster Simpson and local ecological designer Peg Butler. Simpson started designing for the Northwest’s rain in the ’70s. This two-story, 19-foot-long squiggle is made entirely of stainless steel. (Metro, the regional government, kicked in about $10,000 to fund it.) District executive director Jean Fike says the sculptural zigzag turns Portland’s pluvial challenge into a thing of beauty.

Milk pails containing native plants, including rushes, sedges, and ferns. The pails symbolize the conservation district’s rural roots. According to Butler, the buckets hark back to village-scale communal water wells and volunteer fire brigades.

A bottom bucket angled to pour into a drain that ultimately directs into a rain garden. The trench drain flows alongside a water-permeable, wheelchair-accessible walkway.

While not everyone can grab a government subsidy, the city Water Bureau does offer discounts to anyone who disconnects their downspouts from the sewer system or takes other measures. Candace Stoughton, the conservation district’s low-impact development specialist, says creative downspouts can be made of anything from bamboo to PVC piping. “Stormwater doesn’t have to be boring,” she says. “It can be exciting and artistic.”

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