Here’s a nice graph from the USGS showing the past 15 years of water level on the Willamette River. That’s right at the Morrison Street gauge. Today it peaked at slightly over 17′, just a foot below flood stage. That’s the highest the lower Willamette has been since early June of 1997. As a result the city of Portland closed the East Bank Esplanade for the first time since it’s construction in the late 1990s.
Is it a coincidence that at the same time the Columbia is seeing its highest level in 14 years as well??? No, because the Willamette River is not REALLY flooding, but the Columbia River is. The two rivers are connected in the northwest part of Portland, so if one rises the other one does as well. If there was a ton of water flowing down the Willamette River you’d expect high water in Salem and Albany, but that’s not the case. Right now the river is 13-14′ below flood stage at those two gauges.
So how high CAN the Willamette get in Portland? Here are the numbers…
The two highest crests both occurred in June; similar setup with water coming in from major Columbia River flood events.
33.0′ June 7, 1894
30.0′ June 1 & 14, 1948 (Vanport Flood)
29.8′ December 25, 1964 (Winter Flood)
28.7′ February 2, 1890 (Winter Flood)
28.55′ February 9, 1996 (Winter Flood)
During the first 3 floods above (maybe the 4th), water flowed into downtown Portland, up to 5′ in spots during the 1894 flood. You can find pictures around the Portland area showing this flood. Imagine paddling a canoe down 3rd avenue or SW Oak St. on a sunny day in June (the image below)!