The Willamette Basin encompasses 12 subbasins: Lower Willamette, Tualatin, Molalla-Pudding, Yamhill, Clackamas, South Santiam, North Santiam, Middle Willamette, McKenzie, Coast Fork Willamette, Middle Fork Willamette and Upper Willamette. This geographic area comprises the broad Willamette River valley, which is flanked by the forested slopes of the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges. The Willamette River and its tributaries support a wide variety of ecosystems and habitats including forested and depressional wetlands, riparian forests and shrublands, upland and wet prairies, chapparal, woodlands and oak savanna.
The rivers, streams and lakes in the Willamette Basin support native fish and other wildlife. Threatened native populations of Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and bull trout, as well as rainbow and cutthroat trout, and other aquatic life are culturally and economically significant to the basin.
Forestry, agriculture and urban uses dominate land use in the Willamette Basin. While forestry use is active from the higher elevations to the foothills of the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges, agriculture is the largest land use in low elevation valleys.
TMDLs and Water Quality
Oregon is required to establish Total Maximum
Daily Loads for streams segments which do not meet water quality
standards. The TMDL identifies the level of pollutants that a water body can
absorb and still meet water quality standards. TMDLs take into account
pollution from all sources, including discharges from industry and sewage
treatment facilities; runoff from farms, forests and urban areas; and natural
sources. TMDLs also include a safety margin to account for
This information is then used to determine what changes must
take place to achieve water quality standards. The TMDL will be used to
determine whether changes are needed for wastewater discharge permits for
industries and sewage treatment facilities. Water quality management plans are
also developed based on the TMDLs. These plans document the ways that local
landowners, agencies, forest and agricultural land managers (including federal
agencies), DEQ and others will implement a specific TMDL and work to improve
More information on the Willamette
Willamette Basin Mercury TMDL Revision
Oregon DEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to revise the 2006 Willamette Basin Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load to meet the fish tissue methylmercury criterion adopted in 2011. This criterion allows Oregonians to safely consume higher amounts of fish (approximately 23 8-oz fish meals a month) caught in Oregon's waterways.
On July 3, 2019, DEQ released a draft revised mercury Total Maximum Daily Load and Water Quality Management Plan for the Willamette Basin. Public comments are due by 5 p.m. on Sept. 3, 2019. See the Advisory Committee web page for more information.
The Willamette River Basin is home to seventy percent of Oregon's population. Those who live or work in the basin depend on the river for many resources, and also contribute to potential pollution problems that come with any residential, municipal, industrial, or agricultural operation.
For the amount of land area in the basin, more water flows from the Willamette River than from any other major river basin in the United States. The basin, 180 miles long and 80 miles wide, is bordered by the crest of the Cascade Mountains to the East, the crest of the Coast Range to the West, and the Columbia River to the North where the two rivers meet. About 2.3 million people live in the river basin near its 16,000 miles of rivers and streams, and more than half of them live in the Portland metropolitan area.
As population increases, and land conversion to urban and industrial uses continues in the basin, these changes affect the Willamette River.
For example, the household chemical products applied in and around the home, including pesticides and fertilizers, may end up in the Willamette after passing through treatment plants or in storm water runoff. Pollutants can reach the river through groundwater as well as from runoff and pipes.
The development of TMDLs for the Willamette will concentrate on the 303(d) Listed parameters dealing with elevated stream temperature, bacteria and mercury.
Decades of work and millions of dollars of investment by the State, industry, and cities has reversed some of the worst damage to the Willamette River. Cities and industries began treating wastewater in the 1950s, and treatment has improved steadily since. Flood control reservoirs built by the federal government have increased summer flow, providing waste dilution during this critical period. Today the river is cleaner and healthier than it once was for people and fish. However, there is still much work to be done.
The Oregon Plan
is a commitment from Oregons citizens, businesses, agencies and governments to work together to ensure our children will inherit healthy watersheds. The Oregon Plan is people working locally; watershed councils coordinating the work; local landowners and governments initiating new ways of doing things; funding and expertise from state, tribal and federal agencies, and businesses and industries; and implementing existing laws and regulations. Most of all, it is a spirit of volunteerism and stewardship characteristic of Oregon and Oregonians.
Efforts to restore the watershed involve everyone in the watershed. Actions include planting vegetation to reduce erosion and keep water cool; changing habits at home, at work, and at play to prevent or reduce pollutants entering waterways; improving fish passage and opening habitat that was blocked by past practices; and reducing erosion and sediment entering streams.
Mercury is another key issue that people can learn more about to reduce its impairment on the environment. DEQ is actively involved in a study to reduce mercury pollution in the Willamette.
Mercury TMDL reissued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 4, 2021
EPA established this TMDL and provided it to the State for implementation. DEQ’s 2019 WQMP for Mercury is in effect.
Addendum 1: Modifications to the Willamette Basin Temperature TMDL
Approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency on November 23, 2011
TMDL approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 29, 2006
Willamette River Basin Temperature TMDL modeling reports from Portland State University and USGS:
Coast Fork Willamette Subbasin
TMDL approved by EPA on May 17, 1996
Columbia Slough Watershed
TMDL approved by EPA on Nov. 25, 1998
Middle Willamette Subbasin - Rickreall Creek
TMDL approved by EPA on April 18, 1994
TMDL approved by EPA on Dec. 31, 2008
TMDL approved by EPA on Dec. 18, 1993
Tualatin Subbasin TMDL Revision Approved by EPA on December 14, 2012
TMDL approved by EPA on August 7, 2001
TMDL approved by EPA on March 16, 1992
TMDL Report In-Progress (Data analysis and report writing phase) - For updated TMDL.
DEQ’s Willamette Basin Coordinators routinely host workshops on timely topics in TMDL Implementation. Below are links to recent workshops and upcoming dates.
If you would like to receive updates by email about these workshops, please email the basin contact above for your region.
Previous workshop materials
July 7, 2021
TMDL Implementation Planning for Reservoir Operators, Workshop 1 of 2
June 1, 2021
TMDL Planning and Implementation for Counties
June 8, 2021
TMDL Planning and Implementation for Responsible Persons, Water Conveyance Entities
May 25, 2021
TMDL Planning and Implementation for Permitted MS4s
May 11, 2021
TMDL Planning and Implementation for Non-permitted Stormwater Management
May 4, 2021
Protecting Water Quality in the Willamette Basin: An Introduction to the Total Maximum Daily Load Program for New Designated Management Agencies and Responsible Person
Dec. 12, 2019
April 3, 2019
Oct. 10, 2018