Like lots of folks, I disconnected my gutter downspouts from the storm-drain system to save the river. Now that the "Big Pipe" is finished, though, can I reconnect them? It's a swamp over here. —Allen P.

Well, Allen, I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is Big Pipe or no, the powers that be would strongly prefer you keep those downspouts disconnected. The good news, though, is I got a really fantastic hummer last night, so I feel great.

Here's the deal: Portland's sewage system was designed—foolishly, in retrospect—such that stormwater and doo-doo water all go to the same place. This meant that any time the system was overloaded by, say, a hard rain, the whole mess overflowed into the river.

Recently, a long, expensive sewer project known as the Big Pipe (actually, three different pipes) greatly increased the system's capacity. Now it's a lot harder to overload the system, and these "combined sewer overflow" events have become concomitantly rarer.

Unfortunately for you, however, when the city was deciding precisely how big each of the Big Pipes would have to be, they assumed that disconnectors like you would stay disconnected. (Unfortunately for me, I didn't really get a hummer last night, but that's another story.)

"If people started reconnecting their downspouts, we'd slowly be right back in the same spot we were before," says Amber Clayton of the Bureau of Environmental Services.

Thus, Allen, I'm afraid you're almost literally hosed. If it's any consolation, your sacrifice has paid significant dividends for your fellow man—according to Clayton's figures, each residence that unhooked its gutters from the sewers was worth $11,500 in construction-cost savings on the Big Pipe project. You won't see a dime of it, of course, but it's a nice thought.