The Sprout Blog

How does depaving help make the Willamette River swimmable?

July 5, 2016  |  Blog


Each July, hundreds of Portlanders jump into the Willamette River for The Big Float put on by Human Access Project. But is the Willamette River really safe to swim in?

Frequent water quality tests reveal that the answer is yes. Bacteria levels are consistently well below safety standards, so swimming in the Willamette will not make you sick. Get the latest test results.


Float On, the Willamette.

Things have changed

Several years ago, the Willamette River was not safe for swimming. Raw sewage flowed into the river during rainstorms about 50 times each year in “Combined Sewer Overflows” (CSOs). In older Portland neighborhoods, the rainfall that runs off rooftops, roads and driveways and into a storm grate is combined in the same pipes with sewage from toilets and sinks. The pipes used to be too small, so when it rained the mixture of sewage and stormwater would overflow into the river. Find out which neighborhoods have combined sewer pipes.

The Big Pipe

In 2011, Portland completed construction of “The Big Pipe” project. The largest of the big pipes is 22 feet in diameter and six miles long. That can hold a lot of water! Today, sewage overflows happen only in very intense rainstorms — about four times each winter, and roughly once every three years in the summer. The Big Pipe was the largest public works construction project in Portland’s history, and we are paying for it in our sewer/water bills. That is the price of making the Willamette safe to swim in.

Big Pipe

Portland’s Big(gest) Pipe

What about the Superfund site?

The Superfund site is in the most industrialized part of the Portland Harbor, from the Fremont Bridge to Sauvie Island, which is all downstream of the downtown waterfront. The contamination is in sediments on the river bottom and in resident fish. The most dangerous thing about the Superfund site is eating fish such as bass, catfish and carp that spend their whole lives in the harbor. Salmon are safer to eat, since they spend most of their lives in the ocean. EPA’s proposed cleanup plan is open for public comments until September 2016.

The pipe’s not getting any bigger

If we want to keep sewer overflows from happening more often, we have to keep stormwater out of the pipe system. That’s where depaving comes in. Replacing pavement with soil and plants helps rainwater percolate into the ground naturally, replenishing aquifers. And depaving keeps rainwater out of the piped system, reducing the risk of sewage overflows during rainstorms. The next time you’re tearing up asphalt at a depave, remember that you’re helping to make the Willamette River safer to swim in!

The Big Float happens this Sunday, July 10th. Get your pass and grab your water wings to join in.


Jump on in, the water’s fine — Join the Riverlution with The Big Float.

Welcome to the Depaving

Welcome to the Depaving

April 4, 2016  |  Blog

Author: Brynn Eiffler, longtime depave volunteer rock star.

Hello, I’m Brynn. I am usually the first person volunteers meet upon arriving at our events. Here’s my Depave story.

I was hooked after going to my first depaving event in 2012. I wanted more. More earth between my fingertips. More community building. More transformation before my eyes.

In the past 3.5 years, I’ve participated in various projects from fundraising, to volunteer engagement, to education, and of course ripping it up with the crew. One of my favorite roles has been my work as Depave’s Event Engagement Assistant. I welcome all who are new to our organization and reunite with our returning volunteers.

Brynn has earned her chops. click4big

As the Event Assistant I don’t participate in the physical work of depaving. I start each event by making sure everyone is signed-in and has a name tag. I ensure volunteers know where the bathroom is (very important) and where the food/water table is (also very important). From there I speak to how their day will look, where the tools are, which crew leaders to go to for direction, and more. I do my best to ensure volunteers feel comfortable in how their day will be structured.

Once the depaving begins, I capture the fun and live-stream the a

Brynn and the crew.

ction online. We like to share our work with those that follow us around the world. When I’m not snapping candids, I stay close to the tables to chat with volunteers and answer questions. Stormwater runoff, pollution, native plants, and the heat island effect are all topics I love talking about with visitors.

As community members walk by, curious about our event, I have the chance to share project details and how we serve the Portland area. Through these interactions I’m privileged to witness the generosity of complete strangers. One day a random couple walking by the depaving came back to donate to our cause. It’s so powerful to see this kind of thing — this community is truly amazing!

One day a random couple walking by the depaving came back to donate to our cause. It’s so powerful to see this kind of generosity — this community is truly amazing!

Selling Depave gear is another highlight of my day. It’s exciting to see our logo walk off of the site and into the world. “Free Your Soil” travels far and wide as our volunteers take Depave wherever they go.


Brynn, repping Depave!

Local breweries, nurseries, restaurants and entrepreneurs all support Depave by donating items for us to raffle off at our events. Local businesses around Portland show their dedication to making the world a better place by helping us raise money for our projects. One of my favorite parts of our events is the Instagram contest. We encourage volunteers to take a break from ripping up asphalt to take pictures of the event and post them on Instagram (hashtag #depavepdx!) The volunteers with the best shots of the day walk away with the coolest shirt in Portland.


Depave is a multi-generation affair. Mini-Depaver Elliott is already learning how amazing this organization is. You may see her at events this summer as well!

When all the hard work is done and the pavement is gone, I see the beginning of a parking lot transformed. Everyone is tired but there are smiles all around. We’ve just accomplished something amazing. Using our bodies, we’ve created an area that will soon be an inviting greenspace. In the process we’ve connected with our neighbors and formed a unique bond. This is an achievement that one can revisit throughout the years.

I’m grateful for those I’ve met at so many depavings and can’t wait to meet more of you this summer. Join us in creating lasting change. The feeling will last a lifetime.

Join us in creating powerful change. The feeling will last a lifetime.

What does half a staff member look like?

What does half a staff member look like?

February 22, 2016  |  Blog

Meghan Scanlon, Depave’s Projects & Volunteer Coordinator – the newest addition to the team.

Howdy, friends! I’m Meghan, Depave’s newest employee. You might be wondering what kind of person works for such a cool nonprofit. Read on to find out.

I didn’t grow up liking the outdoors very much. I didn’t spend summer vacations camping or visiting National Parks. It wasn’t until a college volunteer abroad program brought me out of doors and into the bush (down under!), letting me experience firsthand the power of individual action to achieve a collective goal, that I began to appreciate a connection with the natural world. Over the course of a month, I helped a few different organizations implement hands-on conservation projects. I planted eucalyptus, built dams, and improved habitat for Australian quolls

Back in the states, I completed my degree in Political Science and headed out into the real world. After working with a national architecture, engineering and environmental consulting firm in San Diego, I explored nonprofit work at a dynamic land trust in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was energizing to work for a mission rather than profit. My work focused on the management of conservation properties and public open spaces. It was this experience that solidified my interest in how people experience and are connected to the places that surround them. I moved to Portland a few years later and found Depave and its unique approach.

I started working with Depave as its Project and Volunteer Coordinator in June 2015. Depave is a small yet mighty group, with only 1.5 full time staff, ensuring donor dollars go to implementing and maintaining projects. I’m the half timer, and typically make a mediocre joke about being short. Maybe this doesn’t translate in writing. This past summer, I coordinated logistics and volunteer activities at our ten project sites. It was—and remains—mind boggling to me how much can be accomplished through the teamwork of volunteers choosing to spend part of their weekends smashing heavy pavement and getting dirty. Dedicated individuals, determined and inspired to make a difference in their communities, continue to show up to make their vision a reality.

It was—and remains—mind boggling to me how much can be accomplished through the teamwork of volunteers.

Depave’s model of utilizing volunteers to instigate radical landscape change paired my love of placemaking with community engagement, ensuring projects are community-driven and sources of local pride for years to come. Placemaking is the concept of planning for, designing, and managing public spaces where people want to be. Through simple (and really badass) acts, Depave creates vibrant, living spaces that inspire outdoor engagement and connection to place. I don’t believe that we must experience nature as “out there”, a destination to drive to on weekends. By removing pavement and replacing it with native landscaping, Depave brings nature back to the city.

I don’t believe that we must experience nature as “out there”, a destination to drive to on weekends. By removing pavement and replacing it with native landscaping, Depave brings nature back to the city.

This year, we’re connecting with new communities and areas around Portland, sharing our model and engaging with folks who might not ever get another chance to participate in such unique projects. Our portfolio contains landscape features that manage stormwater runoff, natureplay and outdoor classroom components for student learning, and native vegetation for areas that lack access to other green spaces. Please join us! If we haven’t yet met, I hope to see you out on the asphalt this summer. 

When I’m not overseeing projects, you can likely find me at home with my cat. I’ll be reading, drinking wine, or eating pizza, or all of the above 🙂

How I Fell in Love with Depave

How I Fell in Love with Depave

January 1, 2016  |  Blog

Author: Tazmine Loomans, new board member, architect, writer and our initial blogger

I was thrilled to receive Executive Director Eric Rosewall’s email last year inviting me to apply to be on the board of Depave because just months earlier, I had fallen in love with the organization after an amazing event at the Muslim Community Center. It felt the same as when someone you’re really attracted to asks you out on a date. I was super flattered and pleased.

I had heard of Depave when I first moved to Portland about three years ago from my friend Walt Lockley. He had invited me to join in what he described as a community effort to remove the asphalt from a parking lot by hand. It struck me as very hard work and I thought that I had better (or at least easier) things to do with my weekend morning than back-breaking removal of asphalt. So that was that.

Until about 7 months ago when I started working at Communitecture. My boss Mark Lakeman told me about several organizations that Communitecture’s sister organization, City Repair, had helped in the past and Depave was one of them. My interest was piqued once again in Depave and I looked it up and saw that the organization was hosting an event at the Muslim Community Center. I immediately signed up for the event because of my Muslim heritage. I definitely wanted to connect with that community and help in their time of need and I was also interested in finding out what Depave was all about. Volunteering at that event seemed like a great way to do all those things.

My boyfriend Dan, who is a sort of religious scholar, was also excited about connecting with the local Muslim community through helping this way and he signed up for the event too. When we showed up for it, we were greeted with the smiling faces of Depave volunteers and I was super excited to see the women with headscarves on and men with kufis from the Muslim community out there. It was a unique sight to see in inner Portland, this coming together of mostly white environmental activists and the predominantly black Muslims (though there was a mix of racial backgrounds represented in the Muslim community). Here were two groups that would never usually share a Saturday morning, working side by side and sweating together, were it not for Depave.

That day was one of my favorite ever, I told my fellow Depave board members months later, for several reasons.

What had sounded like impossible back-breaking work when I first heard about it turned out to be joyful and empowering work. It was work that would not be possible without the power of community.

By using pry bars and the muscles of several people at once, we lifted 5 ft x 5 ft asphalt slabs one by one until the soil of the entire site was freed again.

And here were people I just met a few hours earlier and I felt close to them because together we lifted and removed literally tons of asphalt together. There is nothing that brings people together quite like depaving.

The Crew at the Muslim Community Center Depaving in June 2015

What was even more special about that day was that Depave brought together two communities that have recently been pitted against one another – the western world and the Muslim world – to work together for a common cause. As we broke down the asphalt, we broke down barriers of trust and familiarity and built in their place a budding cross-cultural brotherhood and sisterhood.

At the event kickoff, the Muslim Community Center folks invited everyone to attend an iftar, or an evening break fast gathering that they host every evening during the month of Ramadan. As proof of the lasting bonds that were created on that day, my boyfriend Dan and I attended an iftar at the center and saw another person there from the Depave event. The Muslims community members remembered us from Depave, welcomed us with enthusiasm and thanked us again for our help.

So no wonder I fell in love with Depave. No doubt, the environmental stormwater, urban heat island and green infrastructure benefits of the work the organization does are tremendous and extremely important.

But for me, what makes my heart sing most is the community building part of what the work of Depave does.

As a new board member, I look forward to cultivating this part of the organization because I saw with my own eyes and felt with my own heart the power that Depave has to bring people together by empowering them to improve their built environments.