By Mikael Krummel

“I wanted to paint a storm drain because it raises awareness about protecting our waterways,” says Eugene muralist Rogene Manas. “People don’t realize that the water goes right into the rivers without treatment. So even throwing your car wash soap in a drain is bad for all the wildlife that depends on clean water.”

Manas is one of a dozen local artists and other contributors to the city of Eugene’s Upstream Art Project, established in 2018 under the city’s Public Works Department. To date, Upstream Art–commissioned mini-murals can be found on downtown Eugene and Bethel neighborhood streets. The intent of the paintings is to visually promote public messages about protecting our waterways, stream habitat, and aquatic wildlife. 

“Oftentimes when people see some street imagery, they’ll stop to look closer and it makes them think,” suggests Kathy Eva, a public information specialist for Eugene’s Stormwater Program and the Upstream Art Project coordinator. “Our goal is to remind people that having a clean, healthy waterway is a high priority for us. It’s our hope that the murals will help get people to pay attention.”

Unfiltered pollutants and toxins that frequently make their way into the Amazon Creek and Willamette River are many and varied. Anything on a roof, driveway, parking lot, or even your lawn and garden can get washed into a storm drain: pet waste, detergents, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, construction sediments, oil spills, vehicle leaks like grease and antifreeze . . . .

The idea for the Upstream Art Project was borrowed from similar established programs in Springfield and Gresham. Artists are recruited and encouraged to submit handmade samples of their intended 4-by-3-foot mural designs for review by a selection committee of community members. Storm drain mural locations are chosen by Eugene city staff — often in concert with neighborhood committees. 

Upstream Art Project’s plans for 2023 include the addition of four more murals, likely completed by fall. “One of the cool things is that the artists and their art have gotten a lot of favorable interactions from passers-by,” says Eva. “We’d like to see this project become a regular thing!”